How to stay positive when disasters strike

By Efrosini Costa

How to stay positive when disasters strike

Smile and the world will smile back at you…or is it with you, I always get my anecdotes confused.

The sentiment seems simple enough, but when disasters strike, political turmoil and economic crises begin and whole planes go missing without a trace, it can be hard to find the inspiration to smile.

As we all stay glued to our screens and smart phones for updates on such world events (or in our case trying to solve international aviation mysteries), many of us – including the team here in the MiNDFOOD office – have been left feeling a little flat.

It probably doesn’t help that our dishwasher, printer, photocopier, kitchen sink simultaneously decided to cease working (we were assured this had something to do with the planet’s aligning…or was it the full moon?)

Nonetheless, from these small daily  trials and tribulations to those affecting us globally it seems we can’t help but be pulled into a state of sadness, or shock and left questioning humanity and life.

And according to the experts geographic proximity does not define the extent of our response. “Even if you’re hundreds or thousands of miles away, it’s not unusual to have a powerful emotional response to these kinds of events,” a psychologist Guy Winch, PhD, author of Emotional First Aid, explained to a reporter in a recent interview, adding that the ’emotional reverberations’ could be felt for up to a fortnight or more.

Another article in Psychology Today looked at research on the areas of the brain triggered when watching others in trouble. These studies suggest that such events draw our attention because they trigger our deepest send of compassion when the amygdala, described as a small structure in the ‘primitive side of the brain’ or the lymbic system, is stimulated.

This stimulation also extends beyond the amygdala to regions of the cortex of the brain that analyse and interpret behaviour, stimulating our “autobiographical memory” – our own experiences of pain and trauma. We begin to imagine how that person or victim is thinking and feeling.

Of course, our coping mechanisms are also triggered in this situation – ever wondered why your mind drifts off to what you would do if you were in their place?

So scientifically speaking, yes, when disaster strikes and tragedies befall others – through natural or human causes – they do change us emotional and mentally in important and significant ways.

But what can we do to stay positive? If like us you are looking for ways to find the will to soldier on then here are a few things to consider:

Count your blessings: This may sound like an obvious one but it’s still helpful to remember to be thankful for what we have, as we can often forget these things in our daily life. 

Take action: If you can’t stand feeling like a helpless bystander , find out how you can help, whether it be by donating time or money to a cause or donating your clothes, food etc. Get involved in an annual event that is helping to combat or deal with expected natural disasters.

Comfort one another: You are not alone! If you are feeling blus about something thats affecting a community or group then chances are someone else is too. Find a way to reach out and talk whether it be over the phone, in a letter or email or even through social media channels.

Teach empathy to others: Helping others see the human aspect of a situation promotes greater social sensitivity and compassion. You might not agree with the circumstances but that shouldn’t mean you can’t empathise with the people involved in the situation. We are all human after all!

Staying positive doesn’t have to mean being happy: I’m certainly not advocating that we should have a party or push our selves to laugh and be gleeful everyday, but staying positive doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be happy. You can still be sad and positive about the future. For there is always tomorrow…

Don’t  be afraid to take it personally: We can all learn something from the actions of others. While we sit back and think that the tragedies that befall others will never happen to us, no one can be sure. Think about what you would do, how you would survive, formulate plans and strategies should you find yourself in that situation. Perhaps you could mention them to others, friends, family, kids, you never know how a simple thought or idea could help them out of a life-threatening situation in the future. Remember, knowledge is power.


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