Mental Health Association in Ulster, Inc

Monday, November 5, 2012

Coping with Natural Diasters

In the wake of hurricane Sandy and residual stress from the prior year's hurricane Irene, coping with the stress/distress and trauma from a natural disaster can be overwhelming. From simply having no electricity for days to total devastation of your home and/or many other losses, these events are STRESSFUL.

First and Foremost, here are some common responses to a natural disaster:

  • Disbelief and numbness
  • Fear and anxiety about the future
  • Loss of feeling secure in the world
  • Self doubt
  • Magical thinking, superstition and omens
  • Disorientation; difficulty making decisions or concentrating
  • Heightened response to noise, surprises, jumpiness
  • Uncomfortable being alone
  • Nightmares and reoccurring thoughts about the event
  • Irritability and anger
  • Sadness and depression
  • Feeling powerless
  • Changes in eating patterns; loss of appetite or overeating
  • Crying for “no apparent reason”
  • Headaches, back pains and stomach problems
  • Difficulty sleeping or falling asleep
  •  Sense that life is out of balance
  • Physical discomfort, aches, cold-like symptoms
  • Feeling guilty that others have suffered more than you have
So how do you get back into the routine of life and find a way to try re-establish some normalcy?
Research has shown that the way in which a person takes care of him or herself during the first few days following a traumatic event will help to minimize the development of future psychological reactions to the event.  Understanding the reactions of your body and your emotions can help you deal with the trauma of the event.

Be Gentle With Yourself

Your body and brain work together in reaction to things that happen to you.  As a result, you experience both emotional feelings and physical reactions to events.  Sometimes these reactions are pleasurable, such as when you receive praise from someone.  Other situations cause reactions of stress and discomfort.  Physical reactions can range from muscle tension, headache, elevated blood pressure, stomach distress, nausea, pain and almost any king of physical symptom.  Emotional reactions to a trauma can include anxiety, panic, depression, anger, panic, depression, anger, sleep disturbance and irritability, to name just a few.  

Try to Eat Well and Exercise Within Your Capabilities

People respond differently to traumatic events.  It is hard to predict who will react strongly and who will show little reaction to a particular event.  If you have strong reactions, it does not mean that you are mentally weak or mentally ill.  Reactions to traumatic events are considered “normal reactions to abnormal events.”  If you find that after several weeks you are still unable to cope with your feelings, you may want to consider getting extra help through a mental health professional.  This does not mean you are mentally ill, but simply means that your reaction needs more attention.

Additional ways to care for yourself after a Traumatic event:

  •         Avoid Alcohol use.  Although you may feel like going home and relaxing with a glass of wine, it is very important that you avoid alcohol for at least 24 hours.  The reason is that alcohol works on the way which you preserve memories of recent events.  Because alcohol tends to “numb” your feelings, its influence causes your memories to be preserved in unpredictable ways.  It is very important that your brain have the opportunity to deal with all aspects of a traumatic event so that you will less likely to be bothered by it later in ways that you may not understand.
  •     Avoid caffeine.  Caffeine is a stimulant.  You need to relax and be calm.  The stimulation of both caffeine and a traumatic event may make it harder to cope and settle down.
  •        Communicate about the event  Your mind needs to process what happened so that it can resolve your personal feelings.  Talk with your co-workers, manager, EAP counselor, family member and friends.  Bottling up your feelings will inevitably cause them to appear later in unpredictable ways.  You may want to bring home the phone numbers of some of your co-workers to give support to one another in the coming days.
  •      Ask for Nurturing and Understanding when you return home. Sometimes friends and family may not understand the feelings you experience following a traumatic event.  Ask your loved ones to help you relax by being supportive and understanding.
  •       Use natural methods to relax.  A warm bath, massage and/or soothing music are much better means of relaxing after a traumatic event then alcoholic beverages.  Think in terms of pampering yourself after a difficult experience.  Exercise within healthful limits is also great way to deal with stress.
  •       Seek help if the stress symptoms do not diminish after a reasonable amount of time.  You may want to consider getting some additional help through a mental health professional.  Prompt attention to traumatic stress can often minimize long-term effects. 

Taken from: Ways To Care For Yourself After a Traumatic Event- CISM literature

Local Ulster County New York Disaster Resources

American Red Cross
Ulster County Chapter
Ulster County Chapter
21 O'Neil Street
Kingston, NY 12401
Phone: (845) 338-7020

24 Hour Emergency:
(845) 338-7021

      FEMA provides funding and assistance to local residents (renters and homeowners) and businesses who have sustained loss of or damage to property that is not covered by insurance. Contact your insurance company first: If you are NOT covered for the storm damage by your insurance company, you may be eligible for federal aid. You will need to obtain a letter from your insurance company saying you are not covered for damage from the storm. 

      1-800-621-FEMA (3362)

      Mental Health Association In Ulster County
      (845) 339-9090

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