Mind Matters: Storms in and out

By the time this column goes to press, “Frankenstorm” Sandy will have done her play with us and we will be picking up the pieces from our various sandboxes. I “file this report” from a Red Cross shelter at Avon Grove High School where I am a mental health volunteer.

The night before I trekked here and I admit that I was anxious about how bad the drive would be. I wondered what the situation at the shelter portended. How many clients? Who would I be working with? Suffice it to say, I was not centered, or “grounded” and I was tired to boot. Nevertheless, I thought I was being smart to top off my gas tank and stopped to do so on the way to the shelter. But as I pulled away from the gas station, frustrated because the pump was not working, I turned my car into a curb and blew the tire, basically destroying it. A definite wakeup call.

“Kayta,” I said to self, “calm down. You’re supposed to be centered in the storm. Follow your own advice and breathe. Abdominal breath. Count. Then call AAA and husband, too.”

Fortunately, I was close to home and my spouse and tow truck guy arrived soon and simultaneously. And they were both kind and understanding. So I traded cars with my partner and do-si-do’d down the road.

My incident reminded me of a story I heard from a Federal Emergency Management Administration presenter years ago regarding disaster mental health. Diane Myers related how she, too, could get anxious working in disaster situations. She would carry a notebook with her at all times. If she misplaced the notebook, it was her sign that she needed to go sit and settle down. Once, her notebook somehow walked off just as she walked into a shelter. She walked back out and calmed herself down.

Point is, we all can get rattled. It is just a matter of recognizing the anxiety and taking time to self soothe — using our ways to emotionally regulate. Breathing, finding our feet on the ground, counting our breaths in and out slowly, having an affirmation to silently say —“calm, centered, focused,” “I can calm myself,” “I’m going to be okay.”

Anxiety is a part of life, hurricane or no. What is most important is to find our own ballast in any emotional storm. It’s amazing how we think more clearly, speak more carefully, make wiser choices, when we learn to calm ourselves. As parents, this is not only helpful in dealing with the stress of raising children, but also gives them a wonderful role model in how to cope in life. When we are anxious, our children are as well: they are our emotional barometers.

Of course, there are times when it feels nigh on impossible to soothe ourselves. Alcoholics Anonymous advises to be aware of the occasions for relapse into drinking. The acronym that AA uses is HALT—hungry, angry, lonely, tired. I would add two “S’s,” sick and stressed, transforming the acronym into SHALTS. SHALTS are the red flags, the warning signals indicating the need for some self-care.

* Kayta Curzie Gajdos holds a doctorate in counseling psychology and is in private practice in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. She welcomes comments atMindMatters@DrGajdos.com or 610-388-2888. Past columns are posted towww.drgajdos.com.

 

About Kayta Gajdos

Dr. Kathleen Curzie Gajdos ("Kayta") is a licensed psychologist (Pennsylvania and Delaware) who has worked with individuals, couples, and families with a spectrum of problems. She has experience and training in the fields of alcohol and drug addictions, hypnosis, family therapy, Jungian theory, Gestalt therapy, EMDR, and bereavement. Dr. Gajdos developed a private practice in the Pittsburgh area, and was affiliated with the Family Therapy Institute of Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, having written numerous articles for the Family Therapy Newsletter there. She has published in the American Psychological Association Bulletin, the Family Psychologist, and in the Swedenborgian publications, Chrysalis and The Messenger. Dr. Gajdos has taught at the college level, most recently for West Chester University and Wilmington College, and has served as field faculty for Vermont College of Norwich University the Union Institute's Center for Distance Learning, Cincinnati, Ohio. She has also served as consulting psychologist to the Irene Stacy Community MH/MR Center in Western Pennsylvania where she supervised psychologists in training. Currently active in disaster relief, Dr. Gajdos serves with the American Red Cross and participated in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts as a member of teams from the Department of Health and Human Services' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.Now living in Chadds Ford, in the Brandywine Valley of eastern Pennsylvania, Dr. Gajdos combines her private practice working with individuals, couples and families, with leading workshops on such topics as grief and healing, the impact of multigenerational grief and trauma shame, the shadow and self, Women Who Run with the Wolves, motherless daughters, and mediation and relaxation. Each year at Temenos Retreat Center in West Chester, PA she leads a griefs of birthing ritual for those who have suffered losses of procreation (abortions, miscarriages, infertility, etc.); she also holds yearly A Day of Re-Collection at Temenos.Dr. Gajdos holds Master's degrees in both philosophy and clinical psychology and received her Ph.D. in counseling at the University of Pittsburgh. Among her professional affiliations, she includes having been a founding member and board member of the C.G. Jung Educational Center of Pittsburgh, as well as being listed in Who's Who of American Women. Currently, she is a member of the American Psychological Association, The Pennsylvania Psychological Association, the Delaware Psychological Association, the American Family Therapy Academy, The Association for Death Education and Counseling, and the Delaware County Mental Health and Mental Retardation Board. Woven into her professional career are Dr. Gajdos' pursuits of dancing, singing, and writing poetry.

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