By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD
Although we braced ourselves for Hurricane Sandy, her effects have been devastating. Many continue to deal with devastation to land and property, injury and deaths, and loss of power – experiences that people struggle with directly, or vicariously through talking with loved ones or watching the news. And it’s all very emotional.
One key way to lessen your distress is to understand common responses of people who have been through natural disasters:
Intense and unpredictable feelings: You might experience emotional mood swings and struggle with many different feelings, such as: anxiety, fear, irritability, depression, and numbness. You might also have less interest in work, social, or family activities. Even after everything is “back to normal,” you might experience emotional distress in response to reminders of the hurricane.
Strained relationships: With all the stress related to Hurricane Sandy, you might find that you and others are short-tempered and arguing more. Or, you might withdraw, interacting less and doing less of your normal activities.
Trouble thinking clearly: You might feel confused and have difficulty making decisions.
Difficulty sleeping: You might have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or have nightmares.
Changes in appetite: You might find that you are either more or less hungry.
Physical symptoms: You might experience physical problems related to stress; such as headaches, nausea, or general muscle tension and pain. You might also experience a worsening of medical conditions, especially those affected more by stress. In these situations, check with your physician for appropriate medical attention.
You can alleviate your distress by doing the following:
Accept that recovery takes time: Acknowledge how hard you’ve been hit and accept that it takes time to recover. Give yourself permission to mourn your losses and to rest.
Accept your emotions: Feeling emotional is part of the process, so acknowledge your feelings and express them. Journal, do a creative/expressive projects, talk with family or friends, share with clergy, or express yourself in whatever way that works for you.
Ask for help from those who care: Tell them about your experiences and how you feel. If there are concrete ways they can help (e.g. drive you someplace), just ask.
Accept the help offered by others: By accepting aid, you will help yourself recover more quickly and give others a chance to feel helpful.
Offer help: If you are in a position to aid others in any way and feel up to it, extend yourself. This is a great way to help you feel better.
General self-care: It is always beneficial to take good care of yourself, but it’s especially important to do this now. Eat a healthy diet, get enough sleep, exercise, and do things you enjoy. Avoid unhealthy coping, such as drinking alcohol or emotional overeating.
Seek professional help if needed: If your distress is disrupting your activities at home or work, or your efforts don’t calm you, then seek out professional help. Psychologists and other qualified mental health practitioners are trained to help you cope better.
The amount of time it will take you to recover depends on a number of factors. For example, the more of an immediate threat you felt to your safety or more property damage you sustained, the longer it will probably take you to recover. And, if you were struggling with other significant stresses (e.g. cancer, job loss) before the storm, your emotional reactions may be more intense and it could take you longer to recover.
Whatever your situation, be patient with yourself. This is a difficult time. But, it’s important that you do everything you can to focus on getting you and your loved ones through this and moving on to happier times.
Also consider reaching out to other resources, such as:
American Red Cross: www.redcross.org
Finding a shelter: http://www.redcross.org/find-help/shelter
Contacting and locating loved ones: http://www.org/find-help/contact/-family
Recovery after a disaster or emergency: http://www.redcross.org/find-help/disaster-recovery
Military families: http://www.redcross.org/find-help/military-families
National VOAD (National Volunteer Organizations in Disaster: http://www.nvoad.org
Federal Emergency Management Agency: www.disasterassistance.gov
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The Art of Relationship blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.