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Overcome Stress After a Disaster

In addition to restoring structures and replacing lost possessions after a natural disaster, families may need to rebuild their emotional equilibrium.

“Recognizing the symptoms of stress is the first step to recovering your sense of emotional balance,” says Sean Brotherson, North Dakota State University Extension Service family science specialist.

Families may be stressed if they:

  • Have little time to spend together
  • Experience a sense of frustration
  • Feel they have too much to do
  • Don’t have time to relax
  • Have infrequent opportunities for conversation
  • Get into explosive arguments or bicker
  • Have conversations that center around time and tasks, not people and feelings
  • Eat meals quickly
  • Constantly rush from place to place or task to task
  • Escape into work or other activities
  • Have a sense of guilt

“Focusing on the present can help you work through problems,” Brotherson says. “You’ll just be more stressed if you spend time wondering ‘what if’ or ‘if only.’ ”

Here are some ways to deal with disaster-related stress:

  • Don’t expect your home, business or life will be restored instantly. Accept that physical and mental restoration takes time.
  • Determine what’s really important. Keep in mind that other family members’ ideas of what should be a top priority may not be the same as yours.
  • Focus on the big picture, not the little details and little problems.
  • Learn to accept that you may not be able to control some of the things happening around you, so save your energy for things you can control.
  • Make a list of things that need to be done and the order in which they need to be done. Don’t try to do everything at once or nothing will get done right.
  • Realize that expressing disbelief, anger, sadness, anxiety and depression after a disaster are normal.
  • Realize that your emotions and moods can change unexpectedly.
  • Don’t overlook your children’s feelings. They need to feel they can count on you for extra attention, love and support.
  • Make sure your children understand they are not responsible for the problems the family is facing.
  • Be reassuring but honest about the problems the family is facing. This can help children feel more in control.
  • If the family is facing financial problems, ask children to help think of ways to cut costs.
  • Make sure your family eats nourishing foods.
  • Get enough sleep – at least seven to eight hours a night. Avoid sleeping pills because they can have a negative effect on normal sleeping patterns.
  • Talk with friends, family, counselors or clergy.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

For more information, visit www.ag.ndsu.edu/flood or www.extension.org/Floods.

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