Licensed Psychologist

Managing Traumatic Stress: Dealing with the Hurricanes from Afar

Originally published by the American Psychological Association Even if you were not directly affected by the hurricanes, you may be distressed from watching images of the destruction and worrying about people’s who lives have been turned upside down. This can be especially true if a relative or loved one was affected by the disaster. APA offers the following suggestions for managing your hurricane-related distress:
  • Take a news break. Watching  endless replays of footage from the disasters can make your stress even greater. Although  you'll want to keep informed - especially  if you have loved ones affected by the disasters  -  take a break from watching  the news.
  • Acknowledge your feelings. Some feelings when witnessing a disaster may be difficult for you to accept. You may feel relief that the disaster  did not touch you, or you may feel guilt that you were left untouched  when so many were affected. Both feelings are common.
  • Keep things in perspective.  While the disaster can feel overwhelming, it is important to appreciate those things that continue  to be positive and a source of well-being and strength.
  • Find a productive way to help if you can. Many organizations are set up to provide  financial or other aid to victims of natural disasters. Contributing enables you to participate in the recovery and engage proactively.
  • Control what you can. There are routines in your life that you can continue and sometimes you need to do those and take a break from even thinking about the disasters.

Mind Body Connection

Your emotional, social, and spiritual state has been proven to have a significant impact on your physical health. Stressful events like birth of a new baby, retirement or loss of a job, money problems, divorce, or the death of a loved one often seem linked with the occurrence of physical symptoms. We hear about people who have heart attacks soon after retirement or the development of serious illnesses following a major life change. Students cramming for final exams frequently get sick. Our immune system is weakened and we are more susceptible to illness during those times when we are feeling anxious or upset.

Research has demonstrated that the use of stress reducing techniques can lower blood pressure and stress hormone levels, relieve pain and improve immune functioning. Mind Body medicine has also improved clinical conditions such as HIV, cancer, insomnia, anxiety, depression and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). There is even preliminary evidence that muscles in the body can be toned and strengthened through mental exertion.

You can learn to use your thoughts to positively influence some of your body's physical responses, thus reducing your level of stress. Research has shown that when a person recalls or imagines a happy experience his body and mind tend to relax. On the other hand, when she recalls or imagines a frightening experience, her heart beats faster, her hands may become cold and clammy, and she may begin to sweat.

Below are some relaxation exercises that can help you use the power of your mind to reduce anxiety and promote an increased sense of well being. They do not take the place of needed medical treatment, but they do have powerful psychological benefits.

Relaxed Breathing

Sit or lie down in a comfortable place. Slowly take a deep breath through your nose, hold it, and then slowly, breathe out through your mouth. Focus on your breathing and breathe in a regular rhythm counting from one to five each time you inhale and exhale. Practice this relaxed breathing for 5 minutes two times a day or whenever you feel stressed.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation
 
  • Progressive muscle relaxation involves sequentially tensing and then relaxing specific muscle groups in the body, one at a time, and progressing throughout the entire body.

  • The key to this exercise is to tighten a specific muscle group for at least 5 seconds until you feel the tension, and then release the muscles for 10 seconds, noticing the difference in how the muscles feel before and after the exercise.

  • You can start by relaxing the muscles in your legs and feet, working up through each muscle group to your neck, shoulders, and scalp.


Mind Relaxation

Close your eyes. Breathe normally through your nose. As you exhale, say a word or phrase such as "calm" or "I feel peaceful." Continue for 10 minutes. If your mind wanders, remind yourself to think about your breathing and the word that you have chosen. Keep your breathing slow and steady.

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There are many other tools that trained professionals utilize to help calm you and help you deal with pain and stress. Exercise, yoga, massage, meditation, and guided imagery can also be used to enhance the mind-body connection.
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