Raise your hand if you're feeling on edge and nervous about this year's fire season?
How do I know that you are raising your hand?
Hint: I'm not psychic.
I know because if you made it through the apoplectic fire season of 2017, there is no way you AREN'T.
That's the way trauma (like natural disasters) works.
The 2017 California wildfires were devastating, especially in Wine County. Several of my friends and family members had to evacuate (thank goodness they weren't hurt!) and so this topic has been on my mind as this fire season gets underway.
During a trauma, every single human being on the planet has the same reaction, regardless of age, gender, intelligence, "toughness," or anything else. This reaction is your survival instinct and it prepares you to fight, flee, or hunker down through the danger (for situations you can't escape from). It's not physiologically possible to prevent this response when you are in danger.
Let me repeat that - there is NO WAY to prevent this fight or flight response.
So if you've been beating yourself up because you're anxious after the fires, this is me telling you to stop that! Stop it right now! The only way you could prevent this response is if you were dead. And thank goodness you're not!
Here's what happens during the fight or flight response:
AFTER the trauma, this response stays on and is especially bad when something reminds you of the trauma. It could be the smell of smoke, hot and windy weather, crackling sounds, seeing or hearing fire trucks, orange glows, driving past places you saw burning - all kinds of things!
This is all totally normal.
It's actually GOOD you continue to feel this way, because it keeps your body on high alert and trying to avoid more danger. It's why humans haven't ended up extinct.
Imagine if the cavemen and women of yesteryear felt totally calm and nonplussed after having an near-death encounter with a lion, and then strolled right back out to where the lions were? Yeah. Lion lunch. And goodbye human race.
Here's where things get unpleasant. Because this alarm system is still going off:
See how it all makes perfect sense? Miserable, of course, but it makes perfect sense.
Once you are away from the danger and are safe, these responses are supposed to gradually fade with time, as more and more time passes where you are safe and the danger does not return.
As summer gets hotter and hotter, as the anniversary of the fires gets closer, as fires begin to be covered on the news, it makes sense why you are feeling this way again. Because the danger COULD potentially return. These things (and many, many more) are reminders of the trauma. Your body remembers the trauma and effectively says "oh hell no, not that again!" and the alarm system goes back on.
These symptoms are more likely to go away if you are able to get to safety quickly, the danger doesn't persist, and you get support from others.
When these symptoms persist consistently for longer than a month, and interfere with daily functioning, relationships, or work/school, that is what is known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It's an anxiety disorder many people associate with war, but any dangerous, horrifying situation can cause it.
Depending on how serious your fire encounter last year was (and especially how long you were in danger for), you may feel anxious for your first few fire seasons after last year, or you may feel anxious regularly and notice it gets much worse during fire seasons.
Either way, this anxiety is quite treatable with the help of a mental health professional with experience with trauma.
My hope is that this post has helped you have more compassion and understanding for yourself if you have been feeling this way.
Follow my blog to learn about effective, healthy coping skills you can use to manage this anxiety in future posts!
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