Sandy. Under most circumstances, this simple word conjures up thoughts of coasts, oceans and abundant sunshine. But for nearly 50 million people, Sandy has been damp and dark. Mother nature has left many of us feeling as powerless and damaged as our external world. But as we mop up the mess, we ought to survey our internal landscape with as much concern. Just like the dangling crane in midtown Manhattan, your emotional well-being hinges on it.
The Four Essentials in Your Post-Sandy Disaster Relief Kit:
1. Resilience: Your ability to bounce back is a critical factor in helping you cope with the calamity of Sandy. Resilience, defined by the American Psychological Association as "the process of adapting well in the face of adversity," has been shown to have a protective effect on your health and well-being. In one study, resiliency was the key to recuperation. It has been the common thread amongst people who successfully survived the emotional stress of Thailand's tsunami and Japan's earthquake. But unlike the tragic headlines of catastrophic natural disasters, the news on resiliency is more heartening: It is a human trait that can be strengthened over time. And preliminary research suggests a link between meditation and the areas of the brain associated with resiliency. Though now might feel like an overwhelming and challenging time to sit in stillness, getting into your "om zone" could offer just the refuge you seek.
2. Optimism: Finding the silver lining to Sandy's visit may seem virtually impossible as you pick up the literal pieces of your life, but an attitude of optimism can profoundly affect your sense of well-being, and in some cases, prolong your life. In a group of people with heart disease, optimism was the single best predictor of longevity, irrespective of any other factor. If an optimistic attitude can lengthen the years of life to those with physiologically weakened hearts, might it also confer a benefit to those of us with emotionally weakened hearts? When it comes to optimism, a positive attitude firmly rooted in reality takes precedence over the unbridled variety. And though cultivating a mental dialogue of positivity is a life's work, optimism (like resiliency) can be learned.
3. Social support: No man is an island, or in this tragic case -- lower Manhattan. Natural disasters are mother nature's painful yet powerful reminder of just how interconnected we truly are. And the science supports the health benefits of social interconnectedness. Strong social relationships have also been linked to longer lifespan. So heed the call of our wise elders John, Paul, George and Ringo... Try to get by with a little help from your friends. Your tribe may be the key ingredient to your emotional recovery.
4. Stress reduction: Stress is inevitable. It is your body's way of keeping you safe. Stress kept you off the streets and indoors during the superstorm. Stress prompted the authorities to evacuate entire communities and shut down public transport. But what now? The skies are sunny, yet our internal meteorologist is still on high alert. The aftermath of acute stress can take a toll on your health. It can increase your risk for a heart attack by 21-fold, and in some cases can literally break your heart. There is no better time to manage your stress than now. By getting a better handle on your stress you won't necessarily change the elements, but you will give yourself a metaphorical raincoat to face the storm that's raging within.
It might take weeks, even months, for many communities to recover from Sandy. But if we are to mend our outer world, we must also mend our hearts. As Gandhi famously said, "We must first become the change we wish to see in our world." Let's be the change.
For more by Aditi Nerurkar, M.D., click here.
For more on emotional wellness, click here.