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When to Worry About Your Worries

January 13, 2021 by Coach Cynthia Luna

My Point of Departure – An Assault on Our Democracy!

As I am writing this post, we as a nation are coming up on exactly one week since we witnessed the horrific attack on our Democracy in general and our nation’s capital in particular. Many of us will, for decades to come, recall being in a state of abject disbelief and shock as we watched a riotous group of insurrectionists storm the Capitol with a clarity of purpose and intent that made our blood go cold. And it gives us no comfort to know that many of the rioters were duped into becoming unwitting pawns in an orchestrated attempt at a political coup, egged on by a man whose ambitions far exceed his capacity and claims fail to reach anything approaching meritoriousness (is that a word?).


I remember being awash with anxiety and fear (and also a bit of embarrassment) as I watched the insurrection unfold right in front of our eyes; acutely cognizant that the eyes of the world entire were also watching the potential beginning of the end of the experiment that is our democracy. For me, as an African American woman, the spectacle spot-lighted in black and white (and all the colors in between) terms, a truth I have always understood on a visceral level – i.e., for an increasingly emboldened contingent of our society, I and my kind are not welcome here.


When the initial rush of adrenaline began to dissipate, thoughts began to extend to others in my circle. Being a full-time federal government employee who lives a stone’s throw away from D.C., my thoughts immediately went to the safety of my colleagues and my best friend of over 30 years who currently works on the Capitol complex. I’m happy to report she’s fine, though I am certain she’ll be marked by a certain residual trepidation that will remain whenever she reports for duty in service of her fellow countrymen. For me, the moments (though relatively brief) of not knowing her status – whether or not she was in imminent danger simply for doing her job – felt like an eternity. I ran all kinds of scenarios through my mind and those scenarios continue to be generated daily by me and my colleagues when we come together virtually in the lead up to the inauguration.


Waiting to Exhale

We are all holding our collective breaths waiting for the other shoe to drop. This event will leave an indelible scar on our souls and it compounds a 4-year, staggering, and soul-crushing assault on our psychological safety that began with a descent down an escalator. To look upon pure hate in its unadulterated state is a heavy burden to carry and I, like many others, will carry this burden to some degree in the hours, days, and weeks that follow. For my part, I’ve shared with my colleagues the feeling that I “had a target on my back” and that we were experiencing a “mental hi-jacking or hostage-taking.” Thankfully, the hostage-taking was only figurative and not literal (i.e., Zip ties anyone?).


Fortunately, when I was at my most vulnerable and in danger of slipping into despair, I found myself in the companionship and wise counsel of two of my coach colleagues – both white females – who held space for me as I climbed my way back out of the dark pit of despair to join the world of the functional living again. 


Thank you Stacy and Megan for the gift of your presence!


That encounter made me realize just how lucky I am to be surrounded by a community of friends and colleagues who represent the best of what we are as a nation. And, at this very moment, as I type this sentence, I am reminded of our collective goodness once again. The television is on in the background and I can hear the confirmation that there are enough YES votes in the Impeachment proceedings of our 45th president – the would-be Authoritarian will be impeached for a 2nd time!


In an epoch where the unprecedented became precedent, it can sometimes become easy to overlook just how extraordinary and significant a moment can be. However, even for these times, history will be forced to take note of this moment. Hopefully this represents a turning point in our history. I have reason to hope!


Dealing with Stress Reactions to a Traumatic Event

Stress is defined as a real or perceived threat to our psychological or physical safety. It serves an evolutionary function as the body’s “fight or flight response” to keep us out of harm’s way. As such, it is a useful tool that we as humans deploy in service of our personal safety. Feeling stressed after a traumatic event is normal. However, if you find that the stress you are experiencing is getting in the way of your ability to carry out your daily routines, you may want to take inventory and check that you are okay. Self-awareness and taking proactive steps based on self-discovery (if needed) are key to coping well.


What You Can Expect in the Aftermath

Though not an exhaustive list, below are some common, natural stress reactions to traumatic events:

  • Strong emotions (e.g., sadness, frustration, anger, tension, irritability, guilt, fear, anxiety, etc.)
  • Disbelief, shock, helplessness, crying, and numbness
  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • Noticeable changes in your habits, such as changes in appetite and sleep patterns and/or disturbances
  • Noticeable changes in your consumption of substances such as cigarettes, alcohol, or drugs
  • Noticeable changes in how you relate with others – i.e., you may choose to self-isolate more than usual or you may experience a reduced interest in your usual routine
  • Physical symptoms (e.g., headaches, back pains, stomach problems, increased heart rate and difficulty breathing)
Strategies for Coping with Stress

The CDC offers some helpful guidance to assist you in your response to the aftermath of experiencing a traumatic event. Many of the suggested strategies center around self-care and staying connected to a broader community. Continuing to look after one’s own basic needs and being engaged with a supportive community are proactive measures you can take on the road back to recovery.


When You Should Worry About Your Worries

So what if, after taking all the appropriate and recommended measures, you can’t shake the negative feelings and you are still unable to cope? In this case, depending upon how long you’ve been experiencing the debilitation, you may want to seek additional care and support from a licensed professional, or from your clergy member. According to the CDC, if you experience any of the following, you may want to seek additional help:

  • Having symptoms of stress, like feeling sad or depressed, for more than two weeks
  • Not being able to take care of yourself or family
  • Not being able to do your job or go to school because of your stress
  • Alcohol or drug use
  • Thinking about suicide

Where to Get Help

If you, or someone you know, is in need of immediate assistance, you can reach out to the following resources:


Disaster Distress Helpline

Call or text 1-800-985-5990


National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

1-800-273-8255


As a final note, we are and have been living in trying times, but we all have to find a way to co-exist in this great American melting pot that we call home. I beg you to remember that simple truth in the hours, days, and weeks that follow.  E Pluribus Unum!


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