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Facing June

Spring has sprung a little late this year and I’m a little shocked at how strongly I’m reacting to the green and to the leaves on tree’s!  If you see a woman in a red car smiling from ear to ear and whooping about a burst of color – that’s me.


Emotions can be like that – one second, you’re just sitting there and the next second it crashes over you like a wave. When it’s the joy of seeing the crab-apple blooms that’s one thing – but when it’s a sudden grip in the guts or a push of tears when seeing the new river monitoring signs


– well that’s another.

It’s June and for many of us time has marched by and the flood of 2013 has receded to the background. This time of year, the smell of the rain, the snow leaving the mountains or even some strange memory out of nowhere, can bring it right back. It’s alarming.  It’s normal.  It’s our brain doing its job, but sometimes we have to get her out of auto-pilot; take back the reins.

What it feels like.

For those of you who don’t react to this anniversary, or the sights/smells/memories, it might be hard to understand.  The brain and our body are so adept at keeping us ‘safe’ that they can respond to imagined or memory’s of fear in the exact same way as when things are actually happening. The fear response is also called ‘fight or flight’ and flight can also show up as freeze or appease. The brain shuts down and the body prepares for action. This is great if you are being chased by a bear – not so great if you are on your way to work or trying to get groceries. Your heartbeat and breath get faster, your muscles tense and it is really hard to think.  Imagine trying to do a test while the fire alarm is going! Anxiety is the fire alarm in your brain and when you’ve experienced trauma it can be even more sensitive.  As soft skin covered, no fangs or talons animals, this ability to remember danger has been an asset.

The Good News.

Our executive function – our big person brain – can come back online. We are not at the mercy of this biology, we can learn to manage it. Just like waving the tea towel at the fire alarm we can alleviate the alarm in our brain. When I teach this in schools I say “do anything you wouldn’t do if you were being chased by a bear”

  • Stop. Just notice that you are in your afraid self, you’re ‘off’, you’re not at your best.
  • Take some deep, slow breathes
  • Get a drink of water or something to eat
  • Talk to yourself in a comforting way “it’s okay, the levels are low, you are safe now” – this is the part where we are often being really mean to ourselves – “don’t be so stupid” or “what if it happens again” – this is just the fear trying to keep you safe. If you wouldn’t say it to a scared child don’t say it to yourself.
  • Take a look, smell, feel, hear around– tune in, most of the time you are completely safe in this moment, if not you can respond better with a balance of fear response and big brain power.
  • Express the fear. Fear is often irrational (rational is in the big person brain) and cannot survive the light of day.  Often when you write it, say it out loud or discuss it, it is immediately reduced.

Sometimes you won’t recognize it as fear – talk about how you are feeling – “wow, I went over the bridge and suddenly I’m a little shaky” or “wow, not sure where those tears came from”.

  • If it is overwhelming or not getting better – Seek help (resources below). Some of us will have ongoing issues and some of us won’t – it is not a personal failing, not different than some of us get diabetes and some of us don’t.
  • Look after yourself. Sleeping, drinking water, eating, limiting destructive habits, going outside, connecting with friends, being creative – art and music, dance and fitness – all these things will strengthen your ability to respond to stress.  Don’t forget comedy – have a laugh (this is a shortcut).

You are not alone, we are in this together and as we come to the 6th year after our collective trauma we have so, so much to celebrate. True greatness lives in this town, it’s sprinkled everywhere, not all of it blooming – some of it just sitting in potential, waiting for the right moment. Enjoy spring High River – we love you.

Local Mental Health Resources:

Emergency Services Dial 911
Suicide Crisis Hotline 1.800.SUICIDE (1.800.784.2433)
Distress Centre: (24 hour) 403.266.4357
211 Information Services—High River (24 Hour) Dial 211
AHS Mental Health Helpline 1.877.303.2642
Alberta Health Services: Rural Addiction High River, AB
& Mental Health Office: 403.652.8340
2 fl, 617 1 St. W Intake: 1.877.652.4700
Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) 403.652.8620
Foothills Community Counselling 403.603.3549


More information on ways to deal with triggers and anniversaries:

You can also follow the Town of High River’s facebook book page for weekly posts on river monitoring updates and check