Finding Shelter in the Storms of Life By: Bethany Kunkel, LPCC

If you’ve been watching the news these past few weeks, you know that Mother Nature has been especially brutal. There have been earthquakes, fires, tsunamis, hurricanes, flooding, and more! It’s been overwhelming just to hear about it. Watching the intensity of it all- the reactions of fear, shock, horror, exhaustion- has me thinking about how often we use weather imagery to describe our emotional experiences, particularly the ones that are most stressful and difficult. When everything goes wrong at once it’s “the perfect storm”. We have one problem after another and exclaim “when it rains it pours!” We describe grief that “comes in waves”. One thing’s for certain, into each life some rain must fall. We can’t stop the storms of life- grief, loss, ongoing stress, change (even positive!) from coming. But if we have some strategies in place to create shelter amidst the wind, rain and wobbly ground it can help. It can mean that we come through with more resilience and a shorter recovery period.

Here are 5 strategies for creating calm within:

  1. Routine

Having a routine, even in the smallest of ways, can be a very stabilizing force during times of transition and loss. Some ideas? Drink a glass of water each morning, go for a 5 min walk each day, or create a to-do list each morning. The simplest of tasks can become difficult when in crisis, so don’t make it hard on yourself, choose something basic and “easy”.

  1. Eat Regularly

Keeping nourished will still sustain you for the long haul. Food can be the first thing we push aside in a crisis situation or when we have ongoing stress in our lives. Our bodies can do amazing things to compensate in the short term but it will eventually affect our ability to cope and manage stress if we aren’t getting nourishment. If you can keep getting calories in your body right from the get-go, you’re giving yourself a leg up in the effort to weather your storm in one piece. If you have no appetite, settle for higher calorie liquid food like broth or smoothies with protein.

  1. Hydration

Lack of sleep and stress can actually dehydrate our bodies! Which then signals an increase in stress hormones, creating a spiral of stress and dehydration. Making the effort to add a couple extra glasses of water per day during times of high stress can make a big difference in how you feel day-to-day.

  1. Grounding

Grounding is a way to create space between yourself and overwhelming emotions, in the moment, until you feel calm enough to handle them. It’s about finding comfort within yourself and/or in your environment. It’s great because you can find ways to do it anywhere!

Some ways to ground include:

  • Spend time with loved ones, especially your pets!
  • Use heavy blankets to calm your body. You can also put bags of rice on the top of your thighs, and/or over your ankles as you sit on the floor.
  • Find ways to use and really notice all 5 senses: Eat hot cinnamon candy or sour lemon candy. Use a favorite lotion, perfume, or essential oil. Drink a hot beverage and notice everything: the smell, temperature, steam, color, taste. Run hot and/or cold water over your hands or take a hot/cold shower. Cover up with a soft and fuzzy blanket or wear your favorite cozy sweatshirt. Color or draw a mandala. Go for a walk (barefoot?!) or bike ride and notice what you hear, see, smell, feel.

And finally, breathing

Breathing is also very grounding- but it’s so important that it gets its own category. There are two parts to successful belly breathing.

  • First, you want to breathe from your belly and NOT your chest. When we are under stress our natural reaction is to breathe from our chest and so we want to intentionally breathe from our belly. Imagine a balloon in your belly filling when you breathe in and deflating when you breathe out. If it’s hard to get the hang of, laying on the floor and watching your belly can help you get the rhythm.
  • Second, we want to breathe out longer than we breathe in. This is calming because it increases oxygen in the blood. The 4-4-8 method can be helpful. Breathe in 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, and breathe out for 8 seconds. You may get a little lightheaded when first beginning this practice, so if that happens, no need to be alarmed. Just take a break and resume when you feel ready.
  • A bonus breathing tip: The more our bodies can be relaxed while belly breathing, the better. Before or while breathing, take note of and relax common areas that hold tension- the jaw, the pelvic floor, the thighs, the neck and shoulders. (For that matter, relaxing our muscles and breathing deeply while we eat can greatly improve our digestion!).

So there you have it. Hopefully you feel more confident and prepared for the next storm in life. Here’s to the clear skies and smooth sailing that lie on the other side!

Bethany sees outpatients for therapy out of our Brooklyn Park Medical Office Building location.