Saturday, September 30, 2017

Coping with Disasters

In light of all the Disasters (natural and man-made over the course of the last few months, seems appropriate to talk about how to cope!

Disaster is a sudden, calamitous event, bringing great damage, loss, destruction and devastation to life and property. Disasters are events that inflict great damage, destruction, and human suffering. Their origin can be natural, such as earthquakes, floods, and hurricanes, or of human origin: accidents and terrorist acts. The damage caused by disasters is immeasurable and influences the mental, socioeconomic, political, and cultural state of the affected area. Not everybody responds to a disaster in the same way, as there are differences based on various experiential factors and circumstances.1

Effects of Disasters: 1,2
• Emotional Effects: Shock, terror, irritability, blame, anger, guilt, grief or sadness, emotional, numbing, helplessness, loss of pleasure derived from familiar activities, difficulty feeling happy, difficulty
feeling loved.
• Cognitive Effects: Impaired concentration, impaired decision-making ability, memory impairment, disbelief, confusion, nightmares, decreased self-esteem, decreased self-efficacy, self-blame, intrusive thoughts,
memories, dissociation (e.g., tunnel vision, dreamlike or ‘spacey’ feeling).
• Physical Effects: Fatigue, exhaustion, insomnia, cardiovascular strain, startle response, hyperarousal, increased physical pain, reduced immune response, headaches, gastrointestinal upset, decreased appetite,
decreased libido, vulnerability to illness.
• Interpersonal Effects: Increased relational conflict, social withdrawal, reduced relational intimacy, alienation, impaired work performance, decreased satisfaction, distrust, externalization of blame,
externalization of vulnerability, feeling abandoned. Withdrawal or isolation.
• Intense or unpredictable feelings: Anxiety, nervousness, overwhelmed or grief-stricken. Irritability or moodiness.
• Changes to thoughts and behavior patterns: Repeated and vivid memories of the event. It may be difficult to concentrate or make decisions. Sleep and eating patterns also can be disrupted.
• Sensitivity to environmental factors. Sirens, loud noises, burning smells or other environmental sensations may stimulate memories of the disaster creating heightened anxiety.

Recovering from a Disaster:,1,2 3
The impact of disaster can be long lasting, however, psychosocial intervention can assist with a period of recovery .This can broadly be defined as a time of returning to ‘normalcy,’ and characterized by such processes as rebuilding, and repairing or re-establishing. Some strategies to assist with the recovery from a disaster:

• Give yourself time to adjust. Anticipate that this will be a difficult time in your life. Allow yourself to mourn the losses you have experienced and try to be patient with changes in your emotional state.
• Ask for support from people who care about you. Social support is a key component to disaster recovery. Family and friends can be an important resource. You can find support and common ground from those who've also
survived the disaster.
• Communicate your experience. Express what you are feeling in whatever ways feel comfortable to you, such as talking with family or close friends, keeping a diary or engaging in a creative activity
• Find a local support group led by appropriately trained and experienced professionals. Support groups are frequently available for survivors. Group discussion can help you realize that you are not alone in your
reactions and emotions.
• Engage in healthy behaviors to enhance your ability to cope with excessive stress. Eat well-balanced meals and get plenty of rest. Avoid alcohol and drugs because they can be a numbing diversion.
• Establish or reestablish routines. This can include eating meals at regular times, sleeping and waking on a regular cycle, or following an exercise program. Build in some positive routines to have something to look
forward to during these distressing times, like pursuing a hobby, walking through an attractive park or neighborhood, or reading a good book.
• Avoid making major life decisions. Switching careers or jobs and other important decisions tend to be highly stressful in their own right.
• Seek professional help: You notice persistent feelings of distress or hopelessness and you feel like you are barely able to get through your daily responsibilities and activities, consult with a licensed mental
health professional such as a counselor.
• Get in touch with reality: Intense fear and horror make us lose perspective, and suddenly we expect disaster at every turn. Taking a step back from our fear and trying to think about what we know (what therapists
call "cognitive reframing") can help ease our fears, at least a little bit.
• Find safety in numbers. Results from decades of experimental research reveal that as social creatures, the more alone we feel the more afraid we are. Reminding yourself of the people you can trust will help you
feel safer in your community.
• Help others: Events are traumatic because they destroy our social fabric and disorder our expectations of the world. Giving to others helps strengthen the order in the world through good acts.
• Manage your exposure to the media: so that you can stay as informed as you want without becoming overwhelmed with anxiety and stress.

• Srivastava, Kalpana, Disaster: Challenges and perspectives: Industrial Psychiatry Jounral, 2010 Jan0Jun: 19 (1): 1 - 4. Retrieved on September 29, 2017 from

• Rowell, Kevin, PhD and Thomley, Rebecca, PsyD. Recovering emotionally from disaster: American Psychological Association, Retrieved on September 29, 2017 from

• Charuvastra, Anthony, MD; Managing Anxiety After a Mass Shooting, How to cope with the stress and uncertainity of tragedy. Psychology Today. Retrieved on October 2, 2017 from

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