Human Concerns in Disaster Recovery – Part 3

By |2019-07-03T18:48:59+00:00July 3rd, 2019|0 Comments

This three-part blog addresses some of the human concerns of recovery:

Part 1 What: What are Human Concerns

Part 2 So What: The Risks 

Part 3 Now What: The Applications 

Now What: Applications for Meaning and Resiliency

Resiliency doesn’t mean you “bounce back” to your old original shape after a crisis or challenge. There is no bounce backwards. The past is past. Resiliency means moving forward in order to reclaim balance with new meaning. Balance can be lost if focus is only on one aspect of life – physical, emotional, spiritual or mental. The return to “balance” after a major disaster is the essence of recovery work. Body, Mind, Spirit, and Emotions need daily care and maintenance to stay in balance, remain stable, and support sustainable and healthy responses to challenge. These prior Self-Care practices enhance resiliency to meet life’s challenges when they arrive.

One aspect I have discovered as significant in my private practice and personal life is to continue seeking meaning. I was first introduced to the concept of “meaningfulness” through the works of the great psychologist Viktor Frankl. His groundbreaking work on finding meaning, discovered while a victim of the Holocaust, provided a framework for resiliency that retains its value today. The capacity to seek and find meaning unites the physical, emotional, spiritual and mental faculties, which in turn creates a balance that is more capable of sustainability than for someone out of balance.

Contemporary research continues to affirm that resilient people have learned, or are willing to learn, how to adapt in order to manage sudden change, chaos and ambiguity. They will connect their resources to their challenges, understand the differences between past, present and future, and cope with the apparent incomprehensible nature of events that initially appear totally incomprehensible. They have practiced what helps them return to balance. They also have a personal sense of meaningfulness. 

Sense of meaningfulness: If people have a high sense of meaningfulness, they will be motivated to engage in problems and demands posed by life. They will perceive life events as meaningful either in an emotional or cognitive sense, and they are therefore seen as worth investing energy in. People with a high sense of meaningfulness are determined or committed to regain meaning and stability in their lives. (

Sustainable recovery demands focused attention until balance has returned from the “upset.” Medically, this is called a return to homeostasis.

Homeostasis: the tendency of a system, especially the physiological system of higher animals, to maintain internal stability, owing to the coordinated response of its parts to any situation or stimulus that would tend to disturb its normal condition or function.


Metaphorically, think how during an earthquake everything is in chaotic temporary motion. Not the best time to try to make a cup of tea. However, after everything has stopped shaking and after evaluation, assessment and damage control, that cup of tea sounds pretty good. Taking stock after an incident is usually the first order of business. Recognizing that the shaking is over is a good first step. Then applying all the mental, physical, spiritual and emotional tools at hand, one begins to re-establish a new order and meaning based on the current conditions. This is why first responders run and practice drills all the time. They evaluate, triage and take care of business faster than anyone and return to their collective resiliency quickly. And if not, they know where to get support; peers, Employee Assistance or other appropriate professionals. They generally recover quickly because their meaning is woven into their mission. 

What is your meaning that creates the fabric and texture of your life? Do you know your purpose, your value directions, your personal mission? What do you need in order to create an extreme self-care resiliency practice? Here’s a place to start:

1. Mindfulness

Mindfulness is simply a full awareness of yourself in the present moment. What is going on with you right now? What are your observations about your environment, emotions, body, mind, energies and spirit? Pay attention for 10 seconds while you take a deep breath or two.

2. Choices

Resiliency isn’t a contest or a magical thing that happens to some special people. It is a choice and a personal life-practice. Victims have no choices. Before, during and after a catastrophic incident, there are choices to be made. Survivors access those choices to their best capacity.

3. Personal Practice

Create a personal, custom designed, extreme self-care practice. What do you require spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically today? After you answer that, what else would you need in the event of a disaster? 

4. Add 1% Effort to Goal

It doesn’t take a 100% effort to change anything. Adding an additional 1% to any project over time moves things forward. Like I have often suggested to people creating their first emergency go-bags, do a little extra shopping each grocery trip, and over time you will be well stocked. The same goes for resiliency. Add a bit of meaning, choice, and personal practice over time and you will continue to strengthen your personal infrastructure to increase your capacity to sustain your custom-designed resiliency. What is 1% you can add in order to increase your resiliency?

5. Check the List

The list below is a compilation of attributes that research shows enhance resiliency. I suggest you confidentially grade yourself from zero-to-10 (zero means none, and 10 means great) to see where you may need to add your 1% work toward resiliency.

Score Yourself 0 to 10
Cope well with changes/challenges brought about by the realities of life?
Are you healthy and vital?
Do you bounce back easily?
Do you overcome challenges quickly?
Can you change in a new direction with a new situation?
Are you elastic and flexible (instead of rigid and fixed)?
Do you value transformation from adversity to positive outcomes?
Do you react well to unexpected events and learn valuable lessons?
Can you rebound from setbacks?
Can negatives become positives?
Can challenges become lessons?
Are you self-reliant but not isolated?

6. Research and Custom Design

These attributes contribute to resiliency. More is better. Less is riskier. Mindfulness means you know yourself well. On the same 0-10 scale, rate your levels of: 

Civic responsibility
Social intelligence
Spiritual foundation
Use of knowledge

7. Do you know your resources? Do you know just the basics, or have you developed a full and extensive list of what would help you under duress? Do you see the ads for emergency preparation and think “I’ve got a flashlight, so I’m good!” and stop there? In today’s world, your list of resources needs to be comprehensive. Start here:

Community resources

Employee Assistance Providers

On-line Resources/phone lists

Faith-related resources

Emergency go-bags/Family plans

Emergency medical or mental health resources 

We don’t know if, when, how or where a next disaster will occur. The statistics suggest it is not “if” but “when.” Extreme self-care and resiliency preparation should be part of what gives your life meaning. Preparation is not paranoia; it’s just good thinking. Continue to invest an extra 1% energy to your personal physical, mental, emotional and spiritual practices over time. Then go about your meaningful life. 

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About the Author:

Dr. Vali Hawkins-Mitchell is a licensed mental health counselor, trauma and resiliency specialist, business consultant, well published author, award winning artist, and coach. Currently she is the co-owner of the largest employee assistance program and physician assistance program in the state of Hawaii and a leading international authority on the role of emotions in the workplace. She holds a PhD in health education, a master’s degree in psychology, and another master’s degree in art therapy.

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