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Coping With Stress Caused by Natural Disasters

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Release date: 
July 27, 1999
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BISMARCK, N.D. -- More than three quarters of North Dakota's counties have experienced some form of a natural disaster this year. In fact, the state has experienced a pattern of abnormally wet weather, which has led to several years of ground saturation and flooding and the stresses that accompany the subsequent clean-up.

Mental health experts say many North Dakotans are beginning to experience stress-related problems caused by the cumulative effect of back-to-back disasters.

"Across the state, particularly in some of our more rural areas, people find themselves struggling to cope with the problems they are facing," said Dr. Bonnie Selzler, state crisis counseling coordinator. "The last few years have been truly devastating for many."

"Acknowledging stress is the essential first step toward feeling better," Selzler continued. " People can call us toll-free at 1-800-472-2911 or contact one of the 30 crisis counselors we have in locations throughout the state, to receive one-on-one stress counseling. I encourage people in stressful situations to make an objective assessment of their situation and to take appropriate steps to deal with it."

Some ways to cope with stress include:

  • Talking about your feelings with family, friends and neighbors. Sharing common experiences helps individuals deal with and overcome anxiety and feelings of helplessness.

  • Getting back into daily routines as soon as possible and trying to maintain good eating and sleeping habits.

  • Getting physical exercise each day, even if it is only going for an extended walk.

  • Giving themselves and their families an occasional break from cares, worries, and disaster-associated problems.

  • Realizing that not everyone reacts to stress in the same way or heals at the same pace.

Years of coping with our difficult weather conditions are bound to have had an impact on an individual's physical and emotional well being," said Selzler. "Recognizing the signs of stress is an important step in helping people deal with stress."

According to Selzler and other mental health experts, stress can take many forms. Anger, fatigue, hyperactivity, sleeplessness, nightmares, depression, inability to concentrate, loss of appetite, and increased alcohol or drug use are common emotional responses to stress. Mental health experts say that disaster-related stress may surface days or even months following the event.

"North Dakotans are stoic and resilient by nature," she added. " But people need support and a helping hand when they find themselves dealing with an abnormal situation."

Mental health experts note disaster losses can be particularly threatening to children, who have an even greater need to feel safe, secure and loved. Signs that a child is vulnerable to emotional stress include excessive fear of the dark, crying, fear of being alone and constant worry.

According to Selzler, parents can help their children work through their emotions by:

  • Encouraging children to share their feelings and concerns.
  • Reassuring children with extra affection and explaining that the family is safe and will stay together.
  • Maintaining as many familiar routines as possible.
  • Making bedtime a special moment of calm and comfort.
  • Asking children to help with chores, projects, or planning for the future.
  • Providing children with a sense of hope.

"Adults and children throughout our community may be in need of help," said Selzler. "If you have a friend or family member who is exhibiting any of the signs of stress, encourage them to seek help."

"Ask them to call our hotline or see ...

Last Updated: 
July 16, 2012 - 18:46
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