The amount of stress built up in preparing, experiencing, and recovering from a natural disaster can be a difficult feat to overcome.
Hurricane Sandy has left thousands of Americans in its path at a loss; a loss of power, a home, or a loved one. Dealing with the anxiety left behind can be overwhelming, but you are not alone. Mental health experts believe that this type of emotional distress is common and even healthy.
Richard Heaps, a clinical psychologist and professor at Brigham Young University, believes the grief experienced after a disaster is a normal emotional behavior.
“It’s OK to mourn losses,” Heaps said. “It’s not an abnormal reaction, but healthy and appropriate.”
Heaps and his colleague Melissa Bryner, the director of Terrorism and Disaster Programs at the UCLA/Drake University National Center for Child Traumatic Stress provide steps on managing stress after a disaster.
1. Stay connected to others-Heaps and Bryner believe that it is best to avoid isolating yourself by staying connected to other people. When dealing with such strong emotions, they recommend finding comfort in relationships rather than withdrawing. When worrying about family members and friends, they advise that you maintain consistent contact to feel assured that they are okay. Regular contact can be as convenient as sending a text message or using social media.
2. Operate self-care and get back to a routine-Bryner strongly recommends taking the time to rest before jumping back into a hectic work schedule. They believe overworking can often suppress and mask the emotional stress. This involves eating well and getting enough sleep. Heaps and Bryner also suggest getting back into old routines that can help you move forward.
3. Tell your story– The experts said that telling your story to friends and family orally or through the written word can provide healing. They believe that talking or journaling about the experience can develop understanding which aids the moving on process.
4. Honor other ways of coping- While one method of coping may ease or speed the healing process for you, the experts recognize that it may not work for another. Heaps and Bryner believe each individual reacts and responds differently to disasters therefore their process of coping will be just as unique. They also find that the grieving period may vary among people.
5. Limit disaster exposure–Even though there are constant updates and stories about the disaster, Heaps and Bryner suggest limiting the amount of time used watching the news, posting pictures, or reading social media posts about the events. They find that it has the tendency to open old wounds that can stifle the healing process.
6. Discover and practice meditation-When a moment seems to be overwhelming or the anxiety starts to build, Heaps and Bryner suggest using meditation methods such as deep breathing or praying that can have calming effects. They also recommend using music or self-talking to assure yourself that things are OK now and you are safe.
7. Extend a helping hand-Heaps and Bryner believe providing service to others can be a therapeutic activity. They feel that helping someone else move forward can also aid your own progress.