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HOW TO: Take Care of Yourself During and After a Disaster

This post comes to us from John Weaver, a Disaster Mental Health Volunteer

Disasters generate intense print, radio, TV and social media coverage that exposes all of us to traumatic sights and sounds. Even when we are not directly involved in the events, following the media coverage often triggers strong emotional reactions in us and this is a perfectly normal reaction.

Seeing the carnage, hearing the stories and empathetically feeling the pain of others can easily make us secondary trauma victims. If we’ve had a recent death in circle of family/friends, this may heighten our grief. If we’ve experienced traumatic events earlier in our lives, it may reawakens old memories and make us feel like we are reliving the original experiences. This happens to emergency responders and disaster relief volunteer helpers all the time, and it can happen to others who indirectly witness traumatic events via media exposure.

If you find yourself being unusually upset things you’ve read, seen, or heard, step away from your radio, TV, computer, and smart-phone for a while. Limiting your exposure to the distressing coverage will help. These are some other steps you can take:

1. Take a deep breath (or two). Then take a 5-10 minute timeout from any stressful activity, so your breathing slows for at least five minutes.

2. Take a break. Get some fresh air (and maybe a new perspective).

3. Go for a walk or exercise (stretching, bending, etc.) to burn some of the nervous energy.

4. Take a nap – sleep is critically important.

5. Listen to some music (and maybe even get your groove on) – hearing the right songs will adjust your attitude and lift your spirits.

6. Be reasonable with caffeine, nicotine, and adult beverages (not a good time to quit but neither is it a good time to kick them up a notch).

7. Keep in contact with friends and family by telephone, text, e-mail, or Skype.

8. Hydrate! (dehydration is dangerous and no one likes being around you when you have a nasty headache).

9. Have a healthy snack (e.g., fruit, nuts, yogurt) when you need energy.

10. Read or watch TV, but pick something that isn’t also involving a traumatic subject. Look for escapist entertainment.

11. Practice positive self talk (best to do this silently or in private so people won’t begin to wonder about you).

12. Isolation is bad; reliance on others is good. Stay connected – talk things out with those around you, and you’ll be supported.

13. Cry if you want to (or need to). Allowing tears to come can wash away some of the pain.

14. Journal or blog – write about your reactions to what you’ve read, seen, and heard (both positive and negative). It helps to get it outside of yourself.

15. Ask for help and support from others when you need it – it’s okay!

The fact that you are having strong emotional reactions means you care deeply and you wish you could ease the pain and suffering of others during difficult times. Some people find that donating blood, volunteering, and/or giving money to support the victims helps them feel better because they could turn their feelings into a positive action step. Thanks for caring for others. Please take care of yourself!