“When a hurricane hits, you can’t stop it,” Edna Brinkley says. “What you have to do is deal with the aftermath, which means regaining that sense of control, that stability. You rebuild your home, and you reach out to your friends and family.”
Edna Brinkley, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist who teaches women evidence-based stress reduction techniques at The Brinkley Center. In this episode of Into the Fold, she shares some simple but potent coping strategies for stress, anxiety and trauma—just in time for the holidays, but applicable no matter the season.
Balancing Holiday Cheer and Expectations
When it comes to handling stressful situations, Brinkley’s first words of advice are to stay present in conversations and interactions with others. “If you’re able to stay in the moment,” she says, “that means you’re able to not think about anything that’s distressful for you—about the holidays, or your life in general.”
Being present, however, doesn’t necessarily mean humoring the whims of everyone that crosses your path. Brinkley acknowledges that even if friends and family members have your best interests at heart, their sensibilities don’t take precedence over your own.
“The reality is that you—yes, you—get to decide what’s important, and you get to stick to that,” she says. “And if people are unable to respect that, you have to continue to say it.”
Holiday rituals that feel obligatory may not seem like the right time for self-determination, but Brinkley begs to differ. “It’s okay to create your own traditions,” she says. “Just because your family did something a certain way doesn’t mean you have to do it.”
Rebuilding Homes for the Holidays
Self-care works hand-in-hand with the ability to socialize and care for others. In Texas, the far-reaching mental health consequences of Hurricane Harvey create a heightened need to reach out and lend a hand to those afflicted.
“When you’ve experienced something like living through a hurricane, it takes as long as it takes to heal,” Brinkley says. “One thing you have to remember, and you may have to encourage others around you, is to be very gentle with yourself as you heal.”
According to Brinkley, people coping with trauma should be encouraged by their support networks to recognize the strengths and resources they still have at their disposal, as well as the signs of trauma that may need attention. Supporting others in their healing process needn’t be a time-intensive process, and the strategies used can also apply to those with other mental health struggles.
If a friend or family member is experiencing holiday-induced stress or anxiety, for example, inviting them out for a more intimate gathering—say, coffee or a walk—is a way of making room for relief. “You’re helping them get out, get more engaged, get more exercise—and you let them know that they have someone that loves them and cares for them,” Brinkley says.
Even making yourself available for a meaningful chat can make all the difference. “If there’s someone you know that’s having a difficult time, invite them to talk,” Brinkley says. “Just talk. Allow them to tell you their hopes, their fears, their dreams—what’s really bothering them.
“You are being there for them, and that is one of the greatest gifts you can give a person—to just be there, and allow them to be also.”