Although it has been 2 months since Hurricane Irma devastated Collier County, many people are still feeling the effects of this traumatic event. Today I was with some friends who continue to suffer daily due to Irma. Some are homeless for an indefinite amount of time, some are seeking welfare and Food Stamps (something they never thought would happen in their lives), and spending their days on the phone with government agencies, insurance companies, etc. A traumatic event is a life-threatening occurrence and post-trauma stress is a normal response to an abnormal event, such as Irma. Living through a trauma affects the body, mind, and spirit.
The effects of a traumatic event may be experienced for several months after that event. Again, this is a normal reaction and does not necessarily lead to the diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Indeed, that diagnosis cannot be valid until at least six months after the event.
Common symptoms of post-trauma stress are irritability and anger, memory problems, fatigue, confusion, feelings sad and hopeless, difficulty sleeping and hypervigilance (an increased state of awareness that may be caused by extreme fear or anxiety).
Many people in Collier County are still experiencing these feelings. It is not of sign of weakness but rather a strength to become aware of how you’re feeling and accept that there are “normal” reactions.
Following are some coping strategies that might help:
• Stay connected with your social supports and avoid isolation.
• Self-compassion – be gentle with yourself.
• Talk to others. Telling your story helps decrease stress.
• Try to avoid self-blame and judgment. Remind yourself that you did the best you could under very dire circumstances.
• Stay in the present moment. When you realize that you are feeling bad about the past, or worrying about the future, that’s a good sign you are not in the present moment! Mindfulness exercises are a great way to “be here now”. Remember that another word for the present is a gift.
• Avoid alcohol. It’s natural to want to “calm down” with a drink, but alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. Their use can worsen your trauma symptoms and increase feelings of depression, anxiety, and isolation.• Get plenty of sleep.
• Good nourishment.
The best suggestion I can give you is to take time to play – neuroscience shows that play is just as beneficial for adults as it is for kids! And we know that laughter produces biochemical results such as an enhance immune system and relaxation. Do something silly, made a date with a someone who makes you laugh, see a funny movie or favorite TV show (Lucy in the Chocolate Factory always brings a smile to my face). I understand many of you are coping with very serious things, you don’t have to take yourself seriously! As a wise saying goes, “This too shall pass.”
For more resources visit these websites:
PTSD: National Center for PTSD
National Institute of Mental Health
Center for Disease Control
If your symptoms do last beyond six months, please seek out professional help.
Psychology Today – Mental Health Resources Collier County