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Like Sneaker Waves, Stress Can Overwhelm After a Disaster

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Release date: 
January 30, 2008
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SALEM, Ore.? -- The storms of Dec. 2007 are long past and cleanup is well underway, but this life-altering event can have significant short- and long-term emotional effects.

"A disaster like the December storms can affect a person's mental health, especially when major stress occurs," Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski said. "Our recovery efforts must recognize this fact. Loss of a home or a job, coupled with major damage in the community, can cause emotional injury that we must try to heal as we continue our efforts to help communities recover."

"The initial trauma may be over, but the hard work of rebuilding your sense of normalcy and security may be just beginning," said Bob Nikkel, assistant director for Addictions and Mental Health, Oregon Department of Human Services.

"No one who sees disaster is untouched by it," he said. "Grief, sadness, shock and anger are normal reactions to an abnormal event like the recent storms and flooding. It's important for individuals and families to take steps to promote their physical and emotional healing. Talk about what you are feeling with family and friends."

Stress caused by a disaster can sneak up on you, often appearing weeks or months following the initial trauma. Stress is often displayed in subtle but distressing behavior and emotions. The elderly and children are particularly vulnerable to stress after a disaster and may require special considerations.

Many of us are likely to experience at least one of several emotional responses that affect health, emotions, and behavior. The Oregon Department of Human Services Addictions and Mental Health Division and the Federal Emergency Management Agency have developed a list of what to look for and tips for helping each other get through this difficult time.

Some emotional signs of stress include:

  • Trouble concentrating or remembering things;
  • Difficulty making decisions;
  • Replaying the events and circumstances of the storm and flooding over and over in your mind;
  • Feeling depressed, sad or down much of the time;
  • Experiencing anxiety, anger or fear, especially when things remind you of the disaster;
  • Nightmares;
  • Having trouble sleeping;
  • Increasing use of substances; and
  • Feeling overwhelmed.

Some physical signs of stress are fatigue, chest pain and rapid heart beat.

Some behavioral signs of stress are withdrawal and isolation, even from your family and friends; restlessness; emotional outbursts and being easily startled.

Mental health experts suggest a number of ways to relieve symptoms of stress following a disaster:

  • Friends and family are good medicine. Talk with them about your feelings. Sharing common experiences helps overcome anxiety and feelings of helplessness.
  • Get back into your daily routines as soon as you can.
  • Maintain a healthy diet and get plenty of sleep.
  • Get some physical exercise every day. Walking is a great stress reliever and you can do it with a friend or relative.

Watch out for problems that are more than you can handle. If signs of stress are serious or if they persist, you should consider seeing a counselor or other mental health professional.

For more information or referral, contact:

Columbia County Mental Health: 503-397-5211 day; 866-866-1426 after hours; or toll-free 1-800-294-5211 "press 0"
Clatsop Behavioral Healthcare (24-hour):? 503-325-5724
Polk County, Northwest Human Services 24-hour Crisis Line:? 503-581-5535 or 1-800-560-5535
Tillamook Family Counseli...

Last Updated: 
July 16, 2012 - 18:46
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