Manage The Stress of Natural Disasters

Natural disasters happen. Even if we "prepare" for them – that is to say get a few moments’ head start thanks to our high tech gadgets and engineering feats – there is very little that we can do.

The tough part is they affect us in every possible way – economically, physically, emotionally, psychologically. The Australian Psychological Society (APS) says that the "psychological devastation will affect more lives than the physical or economic toll."

According to professor Bob Montgomery, president of the APS, during and right after a disaster, people naturally (and understandably) focus on survival and rescue.

But afterwards, people will show signs of distress. Survivors benefit most practical and emotional support.

People want to get order back into their lives; they want to regain control over their lives. They want to be assured that their emotions are normal reactions to severe stress. These, Montgomery says, are the basic components of psychological first aid – "to help people heal themselves."

Montgomery mentions two common errors which can happened in the "immediate post-disaster" stage that can create problems later on:

  • During and immediately after a terrible disaster, some people go into psychological shock. They are "emotionally frozen" and silent. This reaction may be misinterpreted as signaling that they were not hugely affected by what happened and do not need much psychological support.
  • When well-meaning people encourage survivors to get the "forget it" attitude – though these are attempts at reassurance – it could make the survivor to think that there is something wrong with their reaction to the devastating event.

Professor Montgomery suggests that "normalizing" survivors’ reactions as how people normally react to a traumatic event is more helpful.

He adds that people have the capacity to heal themselves – some not even needing professional help; only practical and emotional support – to deal with the psychological impact of a traumatic event.

Of course, there are those who are prone to developing Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

The symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks, nightmares, disturbed sleep, increased anxiety and tension, avoidance of normal activities, especially those that may include reminders of the trauma. PTSD can become a serious psychological problems associated with depression, anger, strained relationships, excessive use of alcohol or other drugs, and suicide, says Montgomery.

The best way survivors of a disaster or a traumatic event can help is to look after each other and keep an eye out for lasting signs of distress. If a survivor still shows signs of distress 3-4 weeks after the traumatic event, he or she should immediately seek professional help.

"PTSD rarely goes away of its own accord, and can often get worse," he says.

Source: PsychCentral

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