Addressing mental health after trauma

MEDFORD, Ore. – In this time of incredible trauma, Kristen Caron, a licensed professional counselor is reminding everyone to take care of their mental health. “If you’re having a really hard time grappling with this, it doesn’t mean you’re broken, it doesn’t mean you’re less than. It means you’re going through a really hard time,” said Caron.

After a traumatic event, Caron said it is normal to have a hard time sleeping, to experience emotional numbness and to feel a wide array of emotions. After trauma, she says people can feel anger, sadness, guilt, despair, anxiety, depression and more. Caron said after tragic events, like the fires that tore through several communities this week, it’s normal to feel many of those symptoms or none at all.

Each person is different and will process the emotions of the devastating loss differently, according to Caron. She suggests really listening to your body because it knows what it needs. “If you’re tired, sleep. If you’re hungry, eat,” said Caron. She says it’s also important to reach out to friends and family, if you feel like you need to talk anything out. However, if you begin to experience anything that affects your daily functioning to reach out and find help.

Help can be difficult to ask for, no matter who’s asking, but Caron says it’s an imperative first step. She hopes that the stigma around mental health can be broken, if more people talk about it.

She said first responders have an especially hard time asking for help because they don’t want to be seen as weak. Caron said this can’t be further from the truth. She says first responders should really focus on setting boundaries and taking time away from the job when needed. Taking care of mental health is a primary way to prevent burnout according to the counselor.

If you are feeling anxious, Caron provided a few techniques to ground yourself in the present moment. Many of these will give your brain a new task to focus on, so you can give yourself a break from ruminating over the trauma incurred by the fires.

One of the easiest ways to ground yourself, according to Caron, is through breaking exercises. The first one she recommends is called the ‘box breathing method.’ You breath in through your nose for a count of four, hold it for a count of four, breathe out through your mouth for a count of four, and then hold it for a count of four. She recommends repeating until you feel more calm.

The second breathing method she recommends is ‘abdomen breathing.’ This requires less counting then box breathing. You simply breathe from your diaphragm. Caron says you take a deep breath through your nose until you feel your stomach expand. You can then slowly exhale through your mouth.

If you find yourself unable to get your mind off of a topic, she suggest counting down from 100 by seven. While this may be difficult, she says it will give your brain an entirely different task to focus on, leading to some relief from the traumatic event.

She also recommends the ‘animal alphabet exercise.’ If you’re trying to get some mental relief, she says to go through the alphabet and name as many animals as you can for each letter.

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, there is always help available. You can call the National Suicide Prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255. You can also text 741-741 at any time to be connected to a crisis counselor. 

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