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FAMILY FUSION: Sailing through stressful times

Reverend Haynesley Griffith

FAMILY FUSION: Sailing through stressful times

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Adversity causes some men to break; others to break records. – William Arthur Ward


I have great respect for the sea but unfortunately it has little or no respect for anyone or anything.

I grew up in a fishing village and saw many moods of the sea. There were days when I would observe the calmness of the waters in the early part of the day and then almost without warning, the calmness would turn to violence. One such distinct memory is forever etched in my mind. I can remember that day as if it were yesterday.

I borrowed a small boat from a fisherman and ventured out into the deep with a friend to do some fishing in relatively calm waters. Within about an hour some very forceful winds descended on us and a strong current began to pull us farther away from shore. All our efforts proved futile in getting us back to a place of safety.

We knew we were in trouble and our stress levels began to rise very quickly. Fortunately, an engine-powered fishing vessel was coming in our direction, saw our distress and came to our rescue. 

I have just described to you a traumatic (critical) incident. In this series on stress, I first looked at stress that is personality driven and last week I examined non-personality related stress. My focus today is on traumatic stress which every family may face at some time.

These stressful incidents may include the sudden death of a loved one, rape, fatal shooting, drowning, vehicular or workplace accidents.

Under normal circumstances the human mind is able to cope with the daily pressures and still function effectively without any major side effects. When a critical incident occurs, however, you may find it challenging to cope with the situation, because within seconds of experiencing the emergency, your mind, emotions and body tend not to have the strength to stand up against the sudden powerful blows of the disaster. Initially you may feel powerless because your stress level shoots up unusually high and inhibits you from fighting back. 

I can recall the harrowing experience of one of my friends when she was struck with an immense amount of stress because her youthful husband suddenly died. She was so distraught that she screamed, wailed and went into a frenzy and no one could console her. After a few days she was still in shock and denial.

When her children, close friends and relatives got the news, they too were emotionally traumatised. It took quite a long time for this wife to find her way through the complexity of the trauma to a place of peace.

Sailing through such a nerve-wracking stressful misfortune, and emerging as a much stronger individual appears impossible, because traumatic incidents viciously attack your mind, emotions and body, leaving you sometimes powerless to counter attack. Let us examine what can happen to the mind, emotions and body:  

(a) What happens to your mind? It may begin to display symptoms such as confusion, denial, forgetfulness, lack of concentration, thoughts of suicide and insanity, self-blame and other negative thoughts that would not have been present before the trauma took place. 

(b) What happens to your emotions? Emotionally you may experience feelings such as anxiety, depression, fear, anger, hatred, guilt and numbness.

(c) What happens to your body? Initially your body may experience signs such as decreased sleep, headaches, nervousness in stomach, rise in blood pressure, dryness of the mouth, weakness in your feet, skin rash, stiffness in the shoulders, frequent urination, vomiting, fainting and “jumpy” eyes.

There are a few steps you should consider taking to help you sail through a traumatic incident. Consider the following:

1. Understand what is happening to you and your family because of the incident. Critical incidents traumatise many people and make them feel that death is looming because of what happens mentally, emotionally and physically.

The chances of losing your mind or dying are very slim. The critical incident is responsible for creating those feelings. There is nothing wrong with you when these traumatic situations occur; what is wrong is the situation (accident, death) that is causing these terrifying symptoms. 

2. Seek out a health care provider trained in critical incidents and stress management to prevent you from going toward a more stressful situation.

This should be done one to seven days after the incident. Unless there is a pre-existing physical or mental health issue, your stress levels should gradually return to normal within four to six weeks. If your situation is going beyond that period, then you may need to see a professional counsellor.

3. Understand how your body handles stress. The all-wise, all-knowledgeable Creator built the human body with a top-of-the-line self-preservation internal system that goes into action immediately when a critical incident occurs. It is somewhat similar to an electrical circuit in a house that when an electrical surge occurs, the breaker automatically trips and prevents a fire from taking place.

This God-designed hi-tech internal system quickly evaluates the situation and all the relevant organs are automatically mobilised and begin to perform their functions with great efficiency.

Organs like the brain and heart do quite a bit of work in an attempt to bring the chaotic situation back to a place of harmony within the quickest possible time.

There are also two main chemicals – adrenalin and cortisol – that rush into the bloodstream to ease the increased pressure that threatens your mental and physical health. God is amazing!

I met a man in the Far East who was once involved in organised crime. He told me he encountered a very traumatic incident when he went back to his gang and told them that he was leaving. He related how a gang member took out his gun, put it to his head and pulled the trigger which miraculously jammed. He walked away. He said that from that day he developed faith in God to help him sail through any critical incident.  

Traumatic stress can be a horrifying experience but with time and a clear understanding of what has occurred, you can sail through this kind of stress and become stronger.

Next article I will look at post-traumatic stress.

• Reverend Haynesley Griffith is a marriage and family life consultant. Email [email protected]