Healthy Living: Coping With Disasters and Traumatic Events 

Coping With Disasters and Traumatic EventsBy- Dr. David Prescott – Eastern Maine Medical Center Behavioral MedicineCommon Reactions to a Disaster or Traumatic Event: People who experience a disaster or traumatic event directly are often initially in a state of shock. Psychologists view this as a protective reaction that is adaptive in the short term. People often appear detached or numb immediately after a disaster. For people hearing about the disaster through news media, the immediate reaction is often one of fear and anxiety, as such events threaten our sense of safety and often feel beyond our control. What Determines How People React to a Disaster? For everyone, the closer you are to a disaster, the longer it typically takes to recover. People directly affected, particularly those who were injured or saw others injured, are likely to feel the effects the longest. People who were indirectly affected are more likely to feel the effects if they feel closely connected to the event, for example if they knew someone there or have experienced similar trauma at another time in their life. In general, the factors which seem to impact peoples’ reactions include: • The degree of intensity and loss. Events that last longer and pose a greater threat, and where loss of life or substantial loss of property is involved, often take longer to resolve.• A person’s general ability to cope with emotionally challenging situations. Individuals who have handled other difficult, stressful circumstances well may find it easier to cope with the trauma.• Other stressful events preceding the traumatic experience. Individuals faced with other emotionally challenging situations, such as serious health problems or family-related difficulties, may have more intense reactions to the new stressful event and need more time to recover.Coping Strategies for a Disaster That Are Most Helpful• Share and acknowledge feelings you may experience: Sharing your reactions to a disaster with someone who is supportive is an important way to begin to work through your feelings. • Reestablish Routines: Disasters disrupt our sense of what is normal. Within reason, it is helpful to most people to reestablish routines that are familiar and help give structure to their day. • Find active ways to cope with your distress. Watching a disaster from a distance often leads to feelings of helplessness. Psychologists have found that even small active coping strategies can help people feel better. For example, you might participate in a remembrance or volunteer at an organization that helps people in your community.  Coping Strategies that Do Not Help: • Avoid reactions that become part of the problem such as drinking or using drugs: Sometimes, progress in coping with a disaster can occur simply by avoiding coping strategies that lead to bigger problems. Excessive drinking or using drugs make the problem worse in the long run.• Overexposure to Media Reports: While many people desire the most up to date information after a disaster, prolonged watching of news reports may only make things worse. Take a break and try some other type of activity if you find yourself tuning in for extended periods of time. • Worrying about “What If”: It takes time to feel normal again after a disaster. Speculating about the disaster and other problems that might arise is usually not helpful. Realize that feelings of anxiety and sadness are normal, but they do not mean that another disaster is about to occur. Special Tips for Children: Talk with your child. Talking to your children about their worries and concerns is the first step to help them feel safe and begin to cope with the events occurring around them. What you talk about and how you say it does depend on their age, but all children need to be able to know you are there listening to them.• Find times when they are most likely to talk: such as when riding in the car, before dinner, or at bedtime.• Listen to their thoughts and point of view: don’t interrupt — allow them to express their ideas and understanding before you respond.• Remind them you are there for them to provide safety, comfort and support. Give them a hug.Keep home a safe place. Children, regardless of age, often find home to be a safe haven when the world around them becomes overwhelming. During times of crisis, it is important to remember that your children may come home seeking the safe feeling they have being there. Help make it a place where your children find the solitude or comfort they need. Plan a night where everyone participates in a favorite family activity.For More Information: American Psychological Association Help Center Click here