Natural disasters, even predicted ones, can play havoc with our emotions as well as the electrical power, heat and the digital devices we rely on for information and staying in touch with loved ones. Our routines are disrupted. We may be fearful for our safety or the safety of our property. We share distress about others’ losses and uncertainties about the days ahead - resumption of transportation and road safety, ability to obtain fuel, school closures, power restoration, and other ongoing disruptions.
Everyone responds to these crises in their own unique way, on their own personal timetable. There is no “right” or “normal” way to respond to these abnormal circumstances. Yet, we know that there are typical ways of responding. Maybe you will recognize some of these responses in yourself, family members or friends:
Common Responses to Disaster Situations
- · Stress, anxiety and concern about the future
- · Sadness, sense of loss
- · Irritability or anger
- · Powerlessness
- · Noticeably increased or decreased attention to your circumstances and over- or under-reacting to situations
- · Changes in eating – loss of appetite or increased appetite
- · Changes in sleep patterns including difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, having nightmares
- · Difficulty concentrating
- · Difficulty making decisions
- · Increased use of alcohol or drugs
Everyone responds in their own way, in their own time and responses may change over time. It is important to know that your responses may be more intense or more long-lasting if you have previously experienced a disaster or trauma. People who have experienced traumas in the past may re-live parts of those experiences.
Suggestions for Coping and Maintaining Balance
- · Recognize your own resilience. Think about the tools or skills that have helped you through difficult situations in the past, and turn to those.
- · Return to routines as much as possible, as soon as possible. Even a partial return to routine can be comforting.
- · Take care of yourself by eating and sleeping as well as you can. Maintain the schedule of medications that you take routinely.
- · Spend time with friends and family.
- · Reassure children – even very young children pick up on adults’ anxiety. Answer children’s questions in a reassuring and honest manner. Let them know how you will keep them safe and about who will take care of them if you cannot.
- · Take care of yourself in the ways that you know are helpful to you. For some, that may be exercise, listening to music, reading, praying, talking with friends.
- · Talk about what you are experiencing. Discussing it can relieve stress and can help you realize that others are experiencing similar feelings.
- · Limit exposure to disaster coverage. A constant barrage of updates is not helpful. Tune in for needed information and then give yourself a break.
- · Avoid increased use of drugs and alcohol. In the long run, drugs and alcohol may increase problems.
When to Seek Help
If the feelings persist or are so intense that they interfere with your daily routines, seek help from a trusted professional – such as a health care provider, mental health provider, or spiritual advisor. There are numerous resources available to help during this time.
Westchester County: www.westchestergov.com offers updated information, information about maintaining health during cleanup, transportation and shelters. Additional severe weather information and links to multiple sources of local information is found at http://keepingsafe.westchestergov.com/severe-weather
Mental Health Association of Westchester www.mhawestchester.org. MHA offers Walk In Services and Support at its White Plains location – 300 Hamilton Avenue, White Plains and in Mt, Kisco at 344 Main Street, Suite 301.
Mental Health America www.nmha.org offers information and tips for coping with stress during disaster.
National Disaster Distress Hotline provides year-round disaster crisis counseling. This toll-free, multilingual, crisis support service is available 24/7 via telephone(1-800-985-5990) and SMS (text ‘TalkWithUs’ to 66746) to residents in the U.S. and its territories. Counselors provide support and information about typical responses to crisis, coping, and when appropriate, referrals to local resources. Additional information is available at http://disasterdistress.samhsa.gov.
-- Barbara Bernstein, PhD and MPH, MHA Westchester