Tips for self-care and recovery post-disaster

Oct 2, 2017, 11:54 AM by Dr. Jeff Temple, Dr. Sara Nowakowski, and Lauren Scott, MSW, Behavioral Health and Research Department of Ob/Gyn

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Self-care is critical to coping in the aftermath and recovery of a disaster.
Even with the (short) notice of an impending hurricane versus other natural disasters, the storm impacts are often unexpected, sudden and overwhelming. Knowing the common reactions and responses, how to cope and how to support each other can help us on a path to recovery.

Here are some simple and useful tips that promote self-care and resilience post-Harvey.

  • Recognize that abnormal situations cause abnormal reactions and that is perfectly normal. Know that a wide range of responses is normal and include thoughts, feelings and behaviors such as:
    • Intense or unpredictable feelings like anxiety, worry, sadness, fear, anger, irritability and even no response at all are all normal. Feeling like an “emotional roller coaster” and racing thoughts are also common.
    • Strained interpersonal relationships with partners, children and friends. Disagreements, conflict and disengaging or withdrawing from social networks is also common.
    • Fatigue and difficulty concentrating and losing interest in things or activities you once found interesting.
    • Changing and/or interrupted sleep patterns and eating habits
  • Get back on your routine or establish a new routine. Routines are important for adults and children and give us a sense of normalcy. The quicker we can get back on routine or establish a new one, the better our ability to cope.
  • Re-establish sleep routines and get adequate sleep. Try to maintain a regular sleep schedule and consistent rise time, regardless of how you slept. Go to bed when sleepy. Spend 30-60 minutes unwinding before bed and do something relaxing until you get sleepy. Shut off the chatter in your brain. You may be worrying about repairing your home, helping your loved ones, or preparing for the next potential storm. Instead of worrying at night, try scheduling 10 to 20 minutes during your day (not too close to bedtime) to sit down and jot down your worries and potential solutions. At night, remind yourself this is not the time or place to worry.
  • Eat healthy and balanced meals—it’s important for physical and mental health. Try to avoid junk food and too much alcohol. Exercise and get back to the things you enjoyed before the hurricane.
  • Take media breaks. Too much trauma-related television or social media viewing may have a negative impact. Limit exposure to disaster-related coverage by taking breaks and checking in on a “need to know” basis.
  • Connect with others. Social support is perhaps the most important coping tool we have. Share stories and experiences with friends, neighbors and colleagues. Connect with your social network or create new ones. Try to focus on the stories of hope, as well as progress and next steps.
  • Reach out for support if needed. If symptoms persist after about six weeks or they increase in frequency or severity, seek additional support from a licensed mental health professional such as a social worker, psychologist or licensed counselor.

*adapted from American Psychological Association