By Nerina Garcia-Arcement, Ph.D.
Natural disasters, such as Hurricane Sandy, remind us of our vulnerability. The closer the impact of the hurricane to you the more intense your reaction can be. Surviving a natural disaster such as Hurricane Sandy can bring about stress, anxiety, depression and post traumatic stress symptoms. If you have experienced emotional distress in the past, then a major stressor such as Hurricane Sandy is likely to exacerbate a pre-existing condition.
Typical emotional reactions include disbelief, feeling confused or helpless, irritability, sadness, fear, difficulty focusing and making decisions, feeling preoccupied and ruminating about what happened during/after the storm, worrying about what future negative things could occur, and re-experiencing events from the disaster. Common physical reactions are sleep problems, nightmares, feeling jumpy and being easily startled, racing heart, trouble breathing, headaches and trembling.
If you notice you are experiencing these problems there are actions you can take to feel better:
- Do not isolate yourself: Seek out support from loved ones, friends and neighbors that know what you are going through. This will help you realize you are not alone in your pain.
- Talk to friends and loved ones about how you are feeling: Expressing your worries, fears, anxieties, sadness, disbelief and confusion can be healing and cathartic.
- Limit your news watching: Seeing the images of destruction simply reminds you of your traumatic experience and reinforces your feelings of fear and vulnerability.
- Donate or volunteer your time through relief efforts: This will help you feel more in control and that you can make a difference. Aiding others through their pain helps reduce your own.
- Engage in hobbies or life affirming activities: Doing things you enjoy will help distract you from your distress and remind you that there is beauty and creativity in the world, not just destruction.
- Stay Active: Exercise or go outside for walks. These activities will get your mind off of your problems. Getting your body moving will help release hormones that relieve stress.
If you find you are still distressed after trying these suggestions, consider talking to a mental health professional or a faith based adviser. Surviving a natural disaster can have a lasting negative impact on how you see the world and how you feel. Addressing your emotional pain now can reduce the chances of your stress, anxiety, depression or PTSD symptoms lasting for years into the future.