Page 8 - Horizon October 2017
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                                     FROM DISASTER

            Disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, trans-  There are a number of steps you can take to build emo-
            portation accidents or wildfires are typically un-  tional well-being and gain a sense of control following a
            expected, sudden and overwhelming. For many                  disaster, including the following:
            people, there are no outwardly visible signs of
            physical injury, but there can be nonetheless    Give yourself time to adjust. Anticipate that this will be a difficult
            an emotional toll. It is common for people who have   time in your life. Allow yourself to mourn the losses you have expe-
            experienced disaster to have strong emotional reactions.   rienced and try to be patient with changes in your emotional state.
            Understanding responses to distressing events can help   Ask for support from people who care about you and who will listen
            you cope effectively with your feelings, thoughts and   and empathize with your situation.
            behaviors, and help you along the path to recovery.
                                                             Social support is a key component to disaster recovery. Family and
                   WHAT ARE COMMON REACTIONS                 friends can be an important resource. You can find support and
                     AND RESPONSES TO DISASTER?              common ground from those who've also survived the disaster. You
                                                             may also want to reach out to others not involved who may be able
            Following disaster, people frequently feel stunned, disori-  to provide greater support and objectivity.
            ented or unable to integrate distressing information. Once
            these initial reactions subside, people can experience a   Communicate your experience. Express what you are feeling in
            variety of thoughts and behaviors. Common responses can  whatever ways feel comfortable to you — such as talking with fam-
            be:                                              ily or close friends, keeping a diary or engaging in a creative activ-
            Intense or unpredictable feelings. You may be anxious,   ity (e.g., drawing, molding clay, etc.).Find a local support group
            nervous, overwhelmed or grief-stricken. You may also feel  led by appropriately trained and experienced professionals. Support
            more irritable or moody than usual.Changes to thoughts   groups are frequently available for survivors.
            and behavior patterns. You might have repeated and vivid
            memories of the event. These memories may occur for   Group discussion can help you realize that you are not alone in your
            no apparent reason and may lead to physical reactions   reactions and emotions. Support group meetings can be especially
            such as rapid heartbeat or sweating. It may be difficult to  helpful for people with limited personal support systems.Engage
            concentrate or make decisions. Sleep and eating patterns   in healthy behaviors to enhance your ability to cope with exces-
            also can be disrupted — some people may overeat and   sive stress. Eat well-balanced meals and get plenty of rest. If you
            oversleep, while others experience a loss of sleep and loss  experience ongoing difficulties with sleep, you may be able to find
            of appetite.Sensitivity to environmental factors. Sirens,   some relief through relaxation techniques. Avoid alcohol and drugs
            loud noises, burning smells or other environmental sensa-  because they can be a numbing diversion that could detract from as
            tions may stimulate memories of the disaster creating   well as delay active coping and moving forward from the disaster.
            heightened anxiety. These “triggers” may be accompanied  Establish or reestablish routines. This can include eating meals at
            by fears that the stressful event will be repeated.Strained  regular times, sleeping and waking on a regular cycle, or following
            interpersonal relationships. Increased conflict, such as   an exercise program. Build in some positive routines to have some-
            more frequent disagreements with family members and   thing to look forward to during these distressing times, like pursuing
            coworkers, can occur. You might also become withdrawn,   a hobby, walking through an attractive park or neighborhood, or
            isolated or disengaged from your usual social activities.  reading a good book.Avoid making major life decisions. Switching
            Stress-related physical symptoms. Headaches, nausea and  careers or jobs and other important decisions tend to be highly
            chest pain may occur and could require medical atten-  stressful in their own right and even harder to take on when you're
            tion. Preexisting medical conditions could be affected by   recovering from a disaster.
            disaster-related stress.
                                                                   WHEN SHOULD I SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP?
                           HOW DO I COPE?                    If you notice persistent feelings of distress or hopelessness and you
                                                             feel like you are barely able to get through your daily responsibili-
            Fortunately, research shows that most people are resilient  ties and activities, consult with a licensed mental health profession-
            and over time are able to bounce back from tragedy. It is   al such as a psychologist. Psychologists are trained to help people
            common for people to experience stress in the immediate  address emotional reactions to disaster such as disbelief, stress,
            aftermath, but within a few months most people are able  anxiety and grief and make a plan for moving forward. To find a
            to resume functioning as they did prior to the disaster. It   psychologist in your area, visit APA's Psychologist Locator.
            is important to remember that resilience and recovery are
            the norm, not prolonged distress.                Thanks to psychologists Kevin Rowell, PhD, and Rebecca Thomley,
                                                             PsyD, for their assistance with this article.

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