It seven months later: I’m still thinking about Hurricane Sandy. As a psychologist, my focus is on the storm’s emotional aftermath.
The people affected are a large group, quite possibly all of us. How will they/we recover from the feelings of helplessness and vulnerability caused by the storm? The answer has much to do with our innate capacity for emotional resilience.
Some people will take advantage of traditional psychotherapy/counseling. Others will use a do-it-yourself (DIY) approach.
It doesn’t matter which group you are in. Here are 10 tips for handling your emotional response(s) to Hurricane Sandy.
1. MINIMIZE EXPOSURE TO THE MEDIA. It’s good to stay informed. Whether it’s coverage of Hurricane Sandy or more recent tragedies, watching stories of misery for hours on end doesn’t help the people affected or you. Will you write to elected officials? Send a check to a charity? Donate clothes? Decide what you will do to aid the recovery. Then stop obsessing and get back to real life.
2. ACCEPT YOUR FEELINGS. Talk about what happened with family, friends, and other people.
3. DON’T SELF-MEDICATE. Avoid alcohol, sleeping pills, and other drugs—either to help you sleep or to deal with feelings. If you are addicted to alcohol or drugs, get involved with a 12-Step Program. If you’re already clean and sober, go to extra meetings to avoid a relapse.
4. MAKE RELAXATION A PRIORITY: Walk the dog, exercise, go to the park, play bridge, ice skate, or do yoga. Now is the time for self-care.
5. RE-ESTABLISH NORMAL ROUTINES. If major losses make “normal” impossible, define a new normal. Then take small steps toward achieving it. Go fishing. Go for a swim. See the fireworks.
6. DON’T ISOLATE. Sometimes, staying inside your own head is not a good place to hang out! Say “thank you” to people who are making a difference. Ask other people how they’re doing. LISTEN to their response.
7. EDUCATE YOURSELF ABOUT PREPAREDNESS. Learn what to do if another storm strikes. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Disaster Preparedness (2009) is by Maurice A. Ramirez and John Hedtke; it is easy to understand and readily available. To avoid getting overwhelmed, find one thing you can do now to be safer during the next storm. Then do it–even if it’s just buying a fresh supply of batteries!
8. MOURN YOUR LOSSES. Losses can include a beloved pet, a home, a boardwalk, or a favorite tree. Losses can also include your sense of safety and your ability to trust the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and other agencies.
9. RECOGNIZE SYMPTOMS OF POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER IN YOURSELF & OTHERS. They include numbing, hyper-arousal, irritability, anxiety, depression, reactivity to reminders of the trauma (seeing fallen trees or living through another storm), tension, stress related medical problems, feelings of detachment and estrangement from others, bad dreams, and insomnia.
10. IF NEEDED, SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP. Find a licensed therapist familiar with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Do you have a problem with alcoholism or drug addiction? If so, look for a licensed therapist who is also a Certified Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor (CASAC).
Do these tips ring true? If not, speak up. Comment about what you’ve tried, what’s been helpful, and what’s been a waste of time.
We each have our own story. We need to learn from one another.