Stress disorders can follow natural disasters, say psychologists

Coping with stress
These are some tips from psychologists on how to cope with stress and prevent it from developing into a chronic condition affecting your mental health. Stay connectedto lovedones and friends. Talktoyourneighbors. Sharestories aboutyour predicamentandabout othermattersinyourlife. Reassurechildren. Let yourlittleonesknow that theseare temporary disruptions.Keepa calm demeanortoinspire confidenceinthem. Maintain ahealthy routine.Getyourmealsat theusual times,getyour sleepandtrytokeepsome structuretoyourdays. Instead of feeling helpless, take small stepsto improveyour situation.Whetherthat meansrestockingonfood supplies,reportingproblems inyourneighborhoodtothe authoritiesordocumenting andreportinglossesfor insurancepurposes.If it’s withinyourreachtohelp others,dosoandaskthose whoareelderlyorconfined totheir homesiftheyneed assistance. Ask for and accept help.Ifyou arefeeling overwhelmed,contact friendsandfamilyorthe appropriateauthoritiesto seekhelp.Manymaybe willingtohelpyouifyou shareyourneeds. If worry, anxiety and hopelessness persist andseemtoworsenrather thanimprove,seekhelpfrom amentalhealthprofessional.

The destruction wrought by a storm like Sandy can leave some feeling uprooted and going through the disquieting symptoms of stress disorders, said area psychologists who have studied the stress response. Psychologists have documented the occurrence of acute post-traumatic stress — a short-term condition that could involve feelings of anxiety, hopelessness and irritability — after natural disasters. Some people go on to suffer from the more chronic posttraumatic stress disorder if they don’t feel better weeks after the event. But before that happens, and if feelings of stress continue to affect relationships or the ability to perform at school or work, experts recommend seeking help from a mental health professional. People whose daily routines are thrown off can find themselves experiencing flashbacks, having nightmares, feeling emotionally numb, or, at the other extreme, finding themselves always on guard — as if the next disaster was at the verge of happening, psychologists said. “The longer one is without power and feeling cold and basically abandoned, the worse things are,” said Robert Motta, a psychology professor at Hofstra University who specializes in post-traumatic stress. “Everybody is different and in a large group of people, there are people who will continue to experience anxiety and a sense of dread.” A person’s social support network can make all the difference in how someone experiences a disaster, experts said. Sisters Susan Golden and Donna Goldberg found themselves without power and heat at their homes in nearby hamlets. But the stay-at-home

COMMACK. Sisters Donna Goldberg, of East Northport, left, and Susan Golden, of Commack, both lost power and heat at their homes after Sandy struck but how they coped after the storm differed. moms told starkly different tales of the aftermath. Golden, 43, and her family joined neighbors to ride out the storm, to share generator power and to play board games through dark nights in Commack. “There’s been a lot of bonding with the neighbors and I think that’s what’s kept our sanity,” said Golden, mother of a 14-year-old boy and a girl who likes to say she’s 91/2. “We’ve been talking about doing this more often.” Goldberg, 48, felt “more isolated” at her East Northport home — part of a community of largeracreage properties where she did not see neighbors as much. Her family had to scramble to get food, warm water and shelter on different days. A mother of two boys, 14 and 17, Goldberg ended up getting help from friends and staying with her parents in Plainview. She had felt “temporarily homeless” after several days of disruption, but things were looking up as workers restored power in her neighborhood on Tuesday. “It will take a while to see everything come back to normal,” Goldberg said. For most people, stress symptoms will fade, but those suffering through storm-related trauma can feel better by sharing the pain and taking whatever action is within their reach to improve their situation, experts said. “People are very resilient and will see the symptoms start to subside in the days and weeks that follow,” said Simon A. Rego, director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx. “You need to have a good social network of people so you can talk and express your feelings about what happened.” Children in particular, experts said, need to be reassured that life will return to normal, psychologists said. People will go through normal phases of distress that may involve increased fear, frustration and the ensuing fatigue of disrupted routines, said Manhattan psychologist Robin F. Goodman, a member of the Disaster Response Network of the New York State Psychological Association. “If people get connected and get support a lot of those overwhelming emotions will be diminished,” Goodman said. “We need to share stories and share a laugh, because it’s also a reality check — where you know ‘I am not the only one going through these problems.’ ”






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