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Air quality angst: How to work through uneasy feelings after the smoke clears

 St. Michael's Cemetery in Bethlehem.
Jason Addy
A view from St. Michael's Cemetery in Bethlehem during recent says of smoke from Canadian wildfires.

BREINIGSVILLE, Pa. — As wildfire smoke from Canada crept into the Lehigh Valley this week, red flag alerts urged children and adults to stay inside to avoid any effects of the poor air quality.

“I think it was very unsettling for all of us," said Shonda Moralis, a psychotherapist practicing in the Lehigh Valley. "You know, it just was eerie and just hit home for a lot of what we hear about with climate change.”

  • Anxiety can linger from the experience of Canadian wildfire smoke creeping into the sky
  • A Lehigh Valley therapist has some ways to get past the uneasy feelings
  • She says to acknowledge what is happening and remind yourself it's short-lived

The eerie environmental event left some feeling uneasy and anxious, which Moralis said could be mixed with feelings that remained from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It's so fresh for all of us just coming off of that and for kids,” Moralis said. “I think sometimes, especially for the younger ones, it's this just unconscious question of: 'Is this going to be another year or what?'

"They don't imagine that it's short term.”

'Feels unpleasant or scary'

When it comes to children, Moralis suggested that parents explain to their kids what is happening during environmental events, such as what we saw during the wildfires, and why — in an age-appropriate way, without making it seem too extreme.

“On one hand, we want to be up front and name what's happening and kind of not normalize it, but explain it to them so they have that information and can feel soothed by that. But also to be careful that we're not catastrophizing and scaring them in that way too,” she said.

"Any kind of change or anything out of the ordinary or routine can be very uncomfortable."
Shonda Moralis, Lehigh Valley Psychotherapist

The psychotherapist said reminding children and adults alike that the event is short-lived can help ease the anxiety.

“This will be passed in a few days, so what can we take from it?" she said. "With anything that feels unpleasant or scary, what lesson can we take from that and how can we feel empowered by maybe taking some action?”

In this case, she said, people can turn the scary situation into a learning experience by explaining the science of what’s happening or making the situation fun by playing indoor games, when stuck inside.

She said to remember, “any kind of change or anything out of the ordinary or routine can be very uncomfortable. So we do normalize that this feels odd and uncomfortable and that's OK.”

An air quality alert is scheduled to be lifted at midnight Saturday, June 10.