AND EMOTIONAL STRESS - COPING EFFECTIVELY
almost goes without saying: Residents of New Jersey
communities impacted by large-scale emergencies or disasters
many feel stressed.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reminds us
that the weeks following a disaster can be the most
stressful for disaster victims. Even the most resilient
person may begin to feel stressed, insecure, and maybe
even a little frightened. It is important that those
affected by a disaster address their emotional needs
as part of the recovery process.
Communities work together during the height of storms
to fight a common threat. However, after the disaster-inflicted
shock wears off, and the long and sometimes tedious
process of recovery gets underway, and emotional responses
may crop up. Responses like irritability, anger, fatigue,
loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, hyperactivity and
sadness may surface, say mental health experts.
It is important to remember that these feelings are
normal. Many individuals affected by flooding will experience
at least one or more of these feelings. Not everyone
reacts in the same way or heals at the same pace. However,
by acknowledging and sharing these feelings, it is possible
to feel better. Sharing tensions, fears, stress, and
frustration, can bring wholeness and understanding.
This is a time to give and get support from family and
The most common symptoms of stress include irritability,
anger, fatigue, loss of appetite, sleeplessness, nightmares,
sadness, depression, headaches, nausea, hyperactivity,
lack of concentration, and increased alcohol and drug
with the aftermath of any disaster is extremely difficult,"
said FEMA Director James Lee Witt. "Feeling overwhelmed,
even depressed is common. People need to know that acknowledging
stress is the first step toward feeling better."
ways to cope with stress include:
about your feelings with family, friends and neighbors.
Sharing common experiences helps individuals deal
with and overcome anxiety and feelings of helplessness.
back into daily routines as soon as possible and trying
to maintain good eating and sleeping habits.
physical exercise each day, even if it is only going
for an extended walk.
themselves and their families an occasional break
from cares, worries, and disaster-associated problems.
that not everyone reacts to stress in the same way
or heals at the same pace.
health experts say that disaster-related stress may
surface days or even months following the event, and
can affect children as well as adults.
counselors are often available through the American
Red Cross, the Salvation Army, other voluntary agencies,
as well as churches and synagogues. Additional mental
health information may be found on the U.S. Department
of Health and Human Services, Center for Mental Health
Services' website, or your county mental health agency.
Affect Kids Too
Disasters affect kids, too. Children are often frightened
by nature's fury, separated from and worried about the
future. The "FEMA
for Kids" web site was created two years ago
to teach youngsters what disasters are, how to prepare
for them and what to do when they strike.
Harrington manages the site for FEMA. "During Hurricane
Floyd, one child wrote that she knew the hurricane was
coming and that she was really, really, really scared,"
said Harrington. "She was particularly upset because
her parents weren't talking to her about the impending
storm and that made her especially anxious about the
said the FEMA for Kids site talks directly about the
kids and includes six specific steps on how they can
feel better. The steps include the suggestion that children
write or draw pictures about what has happened as a
way to express their concerns.
Web site can even post the artwork and drawings so the
children can, in effect, communicate their feelings
to other kids in similar circumstances," Harrington
addition, the site includes information for parents
about behaviors their children may exhibit and how to
help them recovery emotionally from the trauma of a
may suddenly act younger than they are or may appear
stoic - not crying or expressing concern," said
Harrington. "Parents can help their children by
talking to them, keeping them close and even spoiling
them just a bit for a little while. Children are particularly
vulnerable to emotional stress after experiencing a
disaster. They are not equipped with the same resources
adults may have and often find it difficult to express
their fears and anxieties. Pay attention if a child
exhibits some of the following behaviors: excessive
fear of the dark or of being alone, changes in eating
or sleeping habits, persistent nightmares, separation
anxiety, loss of trust in adults, feelings of guilt,
and physical symptoms such as headaches, vomiting or
health experts say that there are many things parents
or other caring adults can do to help children work
through their emotions:
them to share their feelings and concerns.
about what happened, giving children simple facts
they can understand.
them with extra affection and explain that the family
is safe and will stay together.
as many familiar routines as possible.
children and hug them frequently.
bedtime a special moment of calm and comfort.
a normal routine, with time included for extra physical
children to possible after-effects of the crisis,
such as funerals.
rituals that provide a sense of safety and belonging.
children to help with chores, projects, or planning
for the future.
children with a sense of hope.
tips for identifying disaster-related stress in children,
and for helping them cope, can be found on the FEMA
For Kids web site.
Concerns for Older Adults
adults may be particularly vulnerable to negative feelings
and reactions. It is particularly important they ask
for support when it is needed.
considerations for older adults include some common
feelings such as:
memories or feelings associated with prior losses
of dependency or lack of self-sufficiency
about limited financial resources and time to rebuild
of a decline in health and limitations on mobility
and ability to rebuild
about limited financial resources and time to rebuild
common reactions in older adults:
and isolation even from family and friends
the full extent of the disaster's impact
longer caring to rebuild or start over
Make an effect to reach out to older adults in your
family or community who may be impacted by the disaster
to insure they get the assistance and support they need
in the post-disaster environment. An activity that may
help all family members is to plan for possible future
emergencies. Knowing how to prepare for and react to
a disaster not only saves lives, but can give peace
Source: Federal Emergency Management Agency