Spring is the time of year where we can experience unstable weather and the possibility of a natural disaster. Disaster stress can occur after a natural disaster but also after a terrorist threat, a fire, or flood. You can become paralyzed by this incredible source of stress and have trouble functioning.
Here are some helpful tips to help you navigate disaster stress.
Common Disaster Stress Reactions
- Disbelief and shock
- Fear and anxiety about the future
- Disorientation (difficulty making decisions)
- Emotional numbing
- Feeling powerless
- Physical complaints (such as headaches or insomnia)
Disaster Stress Survival Tips
- Remember your breath. Take deep cleansing breaths, close your eyes, and blow out stress and fear.
- Discover a mini. A mini is a 1-to-3-minute short meditation. Take a moment (if you are able), close your eyes or focus your eyes on something, take several deep diaphragmatic breaths, and repeat a 1-to-5-word affirmation with each deep breath like: “Keep letting go” or “I have faith.”
- Pray and meditate. We have great science about the health benefits of getting our mind, body, and soul quiet. The practice of silence is referred to different names in different cultures and religions: meditation (Eastern roots), the relaxation response (medical roots), or centering prayer (Christian roots).
- Hold on to something. Put something you love in your pocket, around your neck, or on your wrist. A picture, a cross, or medallion on your neck or wrist. Also consider beads, a rosary, mala beads, or prayer beads. Keep a sacred book with you: a bible, a Koran, or an inspirational book. When you get stressed and overwhelmed, stop, and touch the object; breathe and repeat a word or phrase that comforts you.
- Try guided imagery. Imagine you are in a safe place in your mind. Breathe and close your eyes. If possible, use a guided imagery tape.
- Journal. Disasters leave us feeling overwhelmed and confused and can cause stress and depression. We have studies that show journaling relieves stress—you can literally write the fear and anxiety out of your body onto paper. Chronicle your journey through this trauma.
- Listen to music. Listen to soothing music. It increases serotonin in the body, a healing chemical that helps with anxiety and depression.
- Walk. Take a walk to create endorphins in your body. A Duke study shows us that simple exercise, such as walking, relieves major depression. Exercise helps you sleep. It also helps stimulate your body to produce healing, calming chemicals in your body. Exercise helps you focus and helps your memory. Exercise will also help you to feel less anxious and depressed.
- Stay connected with others. Ask for help when you need it. Talking about what is going on reduces the feelings of anxiety, hopelessness, and helplessness. Community gives you strength, courage, and support. Contact at least one person; together make an agreement that you will call, text, email or contact them when either of you need to release your fears, crying, anger, grief—all the many different emotions you will feel.
- Eat. Food is medicine. Try to keep your family’s diet as nourishing as possible under the circumstances.
- Eat breakfast. This increases metabolism by 25 percent. It helps you focus and aids your memory. Breakfast centers and grounds you and your family, and it helps you start the day.
- Vitamin B6. Vitamin B6 creates serotonin in the body. B6s are found in sweet potatoes, whole grains, rice, chicken, turkey, salmon, tuna, bananas, and mangos.
- Spices. Hot peppers and spices create endorphins in the body.
- Vitamin C. Studies show that vitamin C helps reduce stress hormone levels.
- Protein. Proteins are the building blocks necessary for your body to function. Peanut butter is non-perishable and an excellent source of protein.
Helping Children Cope with Feelings After a Disaster
- Offer safety and security. Get your child something to cuddle: toy, blanket, or teddy bear. This helps them feel safe and secure.
- Touch your child. Hold your child. Physical touch reassures your child and makes them feel safe. Touching is important for children during this period. Close contact helps assure children that you are there and will not abandon them. They feel safe.
- Reassure your child. As you touch your child, look into their eyes say, “We are together. We are safe. We will survive.”
- Talk and listen. Talk with your child giving them simple, accurate information. Then listen to what your child says and their questions. Mirror the child’s question so your child is assured that you heard them and you are present and reassuring.