Surviving a massive storm and its aftermath can certainly take its toll on even the strongest of us. Whether you and your family were victims of Sandy, or are a first responder, rescue or recovery worker, “Disaster Distress” is very real and can include symptoms such as overwhelming anxiety, trouble sleeping, and other depression like symptoms.
These symptoms can vary greatly from person to person. As per SAMHSA, (Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration) the signs of emotional distress related to tropical storms or hurricanes may include the following:
- Eating or sleeping too much or too little
- Pulling away from people and things
- Having low or no energy
- Feeling numb or like nothing matters
- Having unexplained aches and pains like constant stomachaches or headaches
- Feeling helpless or hopeless
- Excessive smoking, drinking or using drugs (including prescription medication)
- Feeling unusually confused or forgetful
- Worrying a lot of the time; feeling guilty but not sure why
- Feeling like you have to keep busy
- Hyper-vigilant- constantly thinking that something is going to happen, including when forecasts for any storm are issued whether or not they have the chance to develop into tropical storms or hurricanes
- Constant yelling or fighting with family and friends; irritable
- Having thoughts and memories related to the storm that you can't seem to get out of your head; nightmares
- 'Triggers' such as sounds or images that 'take you back' to the storm; sweating or heart racing when you experience these triggers
- Unable to perform daily tasks like taking care of your kids or other dependents, trouble showing up to work or school on time or at all (excessive absences), trouble concentrating and getting things done, etc.
- Thinking of hurting or killing yourself or someone else.
For those who have been through similar traumatic experiences in the past, surviving a disaster can trigger difficult memories or emotions, particularly if the past experience was exceptionally difficult or they experienced post traumatic stress at that time.
For many people, day to day life has been forever changed. Adjusting to the “new normal” can be very unsettling and stress inducing, whether you are temporarily displaced from your home, attending a new or temporary school, lost your place of employment or your job, or are experiencing an overall disruption of your lifestyle and everyday interactions with your neighbors, place of worship, home and community.
Children are especially vulnerable to these feelings and symptoms. They may develop extreme anxiety and fear with regard to weather events and storms, or be too small to understand what is happening around them and to their homes and lives. These emotions may be triggered by news coverage, and television shows showing the storm may cause them to think it is happening all over again, and experience extreme stress and fear about it coming and uprooting their lives all over again. This great video was released to help adults understand how disaster distress may affect children and what you can do to help them.
Preparing in advance is always a good idea. Creating a solid emergency and safety plan for your home and family or business can help you and your loved ones feel calmer, prepared and more in control when a disaster strikes. The American Red Cross, ASPCA, FEMA and the CDC all have resources to help you make your disaster plan and prepare for a future event.
There are many resources available for getting help with disaster distress. Here is a list of tip sheets and contact information to get the help you, your family or your loved ones may need:
American Red Cross: Coping Tips in the Stressful Aftermath of Sandy
American Psychological Association: Managing Traumatic Stress: After the Hurricane
American Psychological Association: Dealing With Hurricanes From Afar
National Child Traumatic Stress Network: Recovery: After a Hurricane
National Child Traumatic Stress Network: Recovery: After a Flood
SAMHSA (Sustance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration):
Tips for Talking With and Helping Children and Youth Cope After a Traumatic Event (.pdf)
Geriatric Mental Health Foundation: Older Adults and Disaster- A Mental Health Care Guide http://www.gmhfonline.org/gmhf/consumer/disaster_prprdns.html
One of the best ways to recover from emotional distress is to focus your energy on helping others deal with the same issues. Whether you can volunteer to lend a hand and help your neighbors or others affected, help out at a local community center or in whatever way you can, you will find that it eases your mind and helps to put your situation in perspective.
It is heartwarming and encouraging to help others, many of whom are in a similar situation as yourself. Creating friendships and talking to others in a similar situation can help ease your symptoms of depression and anxiety, and you may find your anxiety and fears start to fade into the background as you reach out to those around you.