Stress and trauma can impact people for a long time. This handy graph, produced by Talk in Tough Times, a new British Columbian initiative developed to support those impacted by the record wildfires and floods of 2017, showcases the different stages that many in the community may go through post wildfire. (Talk in Tough TImes)

AFTERBURN: How are you doing after the wildfires?

Part 1: Anxiety and stress post wildfires

Let’s check in.

What has become evident following the 2017 wildfires is that many people in the community are facing increased stress. We may not all have lost homes, but even though we may not recognize it, many of us continue to be deeply affected by the events of last summer.

The Tribune is partnering with the Mental Health Working Group to produce this five-part series to delve deeper into what is happening in our community post-wildfire. Please use this series as a guide to point youself and your loved ones towards the many resources available, events currently being planned and activities related to improving your mental health and wellness in Williams Lake

It’s a scene we’re all too familiar with.

Someone posts a picture on Facebook – there’s a puff of smoke, or a helicopter flying overhead.

“Anyone know what’s going on?”

Then the comments start — sometimes helpful at first, sometimes not.

“Just a prescribed burn!”

“So-and-so’s got a slash pile going, no need to worry.”

“I saw firetrucks head out of town an hour ago, what’s going on?”

And then the reactions happen:

“I wish they wouldn’t do that so close to town.”

or

“Stop overreacting!”

or

“You’re making people panic! Why do you have to post things like this?”

While those might be a toned-down version of what people are seeing online, conversations like that are a symptom of a general malaise and anxiety many in the community are facing right now, said Canadian Mental Health Association executive director Janice Breck.

Since the wildfires, Breck said the CMHA has seen an approximate eight to 10 per cent increase in demand for their services, and their intake wait list has gotten longer.

They’ve recently hired a new councillor and are hoping on Red Cross funding to add another.

But even with people who haven’t reached out to seek mental health support, or may not need access to a councillor, there’s plenty of little things that can add up for many in the community who faced the wildfires last year.

Plumes of smoke and airplanes flying overhead, sirens, can make people tense, setting off stress or anxiety — in other words, they’re a trigger.

“Triggers are those things that spark a reaction that is not a typical reaction,” said Beck.

“It can be a person, it can be a thing or it can be a sound — a reaction to something normally wouldn’t bother you.”

It sometimes takes a lot of self-awareness to identify what might trigger you, said Beck.

“If you can see ‘this isn’t normal for me’ then it is easier to identify it, but sometimes these emotions just happen and its hard to recognize when it is an actual trigger,” said Breck.

“Whether you recognize it or not, if you are reacting to something in a way that you normally wouldn’t, then that is the key, it’s something that needs to be looked at.”

As the weather warms, and the anniversary approaches, these feelings are increasing Breck said. People are anxious and stressed about what the summer may be like.

“We’re hearing it all the time.”

For a short definition: anxiety seen in the inability to focus or functioning, having that huge anxiety and fear about what is going to happen, experiencing panic attacks, rapid thinking.

Stress can be physical and emotional, and include behaviours where you are emotional, or have fatigue, poor concentration or confusion, agitation.

The way they manifest are as different and diverse as the people they manifest in.

When you know what your own triggers are, it’s easier then to address.

“Ask yourself, ‘How do I feel? What would help me feel better?” said Breck.

“I am a firm believer that everyone has the answer inside of themselves. They may not know it yet, but it’s there.”

An easy way to keep yourself feeling okay, is sticking to your own self care plan.

Find something, music exercise, a nap, people, that makes you feel better.

To come up with something for you, start with what you enjoy, said Breck. If that’s difficult to identify for you, even if you want to be is alone, make sure you spend some time with people.

“Even if you have two or three things that you can fall back on that would help you feel better, take that. Everybody is different what works for one person isn’t going to work for another, so you have to find what works for you.”

A simple thing to start would be keeping a gratitude journal — something to remind you of what you are thankful for, whether during the wildfires or in your day to day.

“Sometimes by remembering the good parts it helps us to be able to focus on the future in a way that isn’t so negative. We can tell ourselves ‘Okay we made it through, what did we learn from it?’”

There are times, though, that people need to look to outside help.

“If it gets to a point where they are not able to do their normal activities without breaking down or without interruption, than it is important to look for help, because that’s a sign of the stress hitting you,” she said.

People can reach out through their doctor, a trusted friend or the crisis line, at 1-888-353-2273.

Breck admits that even she has left-over stress from the wildfires.

“Sometimes the self awareness part is hard. We don’t want to admit that it has impacted, us so I think if we can get to the point where we are okay saying ‘You know what, I was impacted. I was affected. I’ll get through it.’”

It’s also important to recognize that these are normal reactions.

“It’s a normal reaction to an abnormal event,” she said.

“If we can tell ourselves ‘I’m not crazy. It is normal for me to feel this way,’ it helps.”

Resources:

24-Hour Crisis Line: 1-888-353-2273

Mental Health Support Crisis Line: 310-6789

Helpline for Children: 310-1234 www.bc211.ca

Canadian Mental Health Week

May 7-13 marks the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Mental Health Week and the 100th anniversary of the organization.

As a result, there will be numerous locations around town for people to stop by, chat with a mental health professional, a wellness team, and pick up more information about mental health and wellness through the Cariboo.

CMHA

CMHA will be holding an information booth at the Cariboo Memorial Recreation Centre on Friday, May 11. People can stop by, pick up information, talk CMHA, mental health, and resources available.

Throughout the week, information will be on-hand at the rec centre, for anyone stopping by or hoping to learn more.

Community Wellness Team

The United Way’s Community Wellness Team will be setting up booths on Tuesday, May 8 and Thursday, May 10 at Walmart, Safeway, Save-On-Foods and other locations through town with more information and resources on what the community is doing and information available on health and wellness throughout the community.

Additionally, the group will be sharing information on the Talk in Tough Times, a new Facebook page looking at mental health post disasters.

Hospital

Information will also be available through two booths set up at the hospital on May 8 from different mental health-related agencies in the Cariboo.

 

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