Running Towards the Emotional Recovery “Finish Line”
By Christian Burgess, LMSW, Director, Disaster Distress Helpline, Vibrant Emotional Health
I’m the Director of the Disaster Distress Helpline, the nation’s only 24/7 crisis hotline dedicated to providing year-round access to immediate crisis counseling and support for survivors, loved ones of victims, emergency responders, and anyone in the U.S. and territories struggling with distress during any phase of a natural or human-caused disaster. Needless to say, my job is stressful, which is one of the reasons why I love running: It allows me time to process, think of creative new ideas, and channel unspent energy from one day so that I might face the next.
This is a common theme of runners, and I’m no exception: Exercise as a form of coping. No matter your sport and no matter at what level you dedicate yourself, from a daily walk (or wheel) around the block to an ultra-distance marathon competitor, we love to engage our bodies in order to stimulate our minds and better understand our emotions.
Ironically, in the immediate aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing on April 15th, 2013, I didn’t have the chance to run that week because I was so busy, working alongside my colleagues with the Disaster Distress Helpline in ensuring that our network of crisis contact centers across the country had the support they needed to, in turn, assist callers and texters who were reaching out because they needed what the DDH provides: Empathy, resources for coping, referrals to community-based services for follow-up support, and validation.
Running is a sport rife with metaphors, and so for those that may be struggling ten years after the Boston Marathon Bombing – or after any disaster –I offer these 5 tips that can help you reach the emotional recovery “finish line”:
Draw on past experience …
What has helped you get through or recover from a tough race in the past?
While sometimes it’s easy to forget, coping during a stressful time in your life is a lot like thinking about past races when you’re getting ready for your next one: what worked for you then will likely also help you now.
… While also trying new techniques!
Every runner likes to try new gadgets, and often times these then lead to new routines. Similarly, when you’re feeling stressed, try new ways to cope: Vary your running route or cross-train, engage in creative arts, practice, or develop a new hobby. Also, slow down (while not stopping altogether) – take walks, engage in something that soothes you, and pamper yourself in some way.
Help out others along the course
Spectators along a race route aren’t just there to look or be looked at: They cheer and offer encouragement. Runners along the route also help each other when another falters. Apply the same approach to the healing process after a disaster: Offer those struggling your shoulder to lean on, practice empathy, and offer help while they’re recovering- Babysitting, running an errand, making a meal…any ‘random act of kindness’ can actually go a long way in helping a disaster survivor or responder understand that they are not alone in their recovery. What’s more, you’ll feel better yourself from having helped someone during a difficult time.
Recovery is possible
In a difficult race, the finish line might seem far off, but you know it’s there: One foot in front of the other or one crank after another on those wheelchair racers, and eventually, you’ll cross that finish line. Recovery looks different for every person and may have ups and downs, but getting to the point where you feel like you can move forward – just like getting over ‘the wall’ in a long race –is possible.
Know your limits
Even after trying these tips, sometimes you need to know when you have to seek help along the course. Knowing your limits isn’t a sign of failure, it’s a recognition that we’re all human, and therefore we all need help in order to be able to get back up and try again some other time.
If you or someone you care about is struggling with difficult emotions 10 years after the Boston Marathon Bombing or after any disaster, reach out to the national Disaster Distress Helpline, 24/7: call or text 1-800-985-599 (para Español, opríma número “2”).
For Deaf/Hard of Hearing ASL users, to connect directly with a trained DDH crisis worker fluent in ASL, call 1-800-985-5990 via your videophone-enabled device or select “ASL Now” at www.samhsa.gov/find-help/disaster-distress-helpline.
To learn about the DDH’s Online Peer Support Community for Survivors of Mass Violence, go to strengthafterdisaster.org/peer-support/.