When news of a disaster hits, it can cause suffering not only to those at ground zero, but others who witness the aftermath.
Watching a traumatic event unfold on television, radio, the internet or social media sets into motion a variety of psychological reactions, called Disaster Reactions. These psychological reactions have physical, cognitive, emotional and behavioral presentations.
The list below shows you some of the many kinds of experiences children, teens and adults can have.
• Apathy, diminished interest in usual activities
• Appetite change
• Decreased sexual interest
• Difficulty concentrating
• Difficulty making decisions
• Difficulty using logic
• Difficulty naming objects
• Difficulty focusing
• Distortions in time perspective
• Exaggerated startle reaction
• Excessive worry about safety of others
• Emotional numbing
• Faintness or dizziness
• Feelings of being unappreciated
• Feelings of inadequacy
• Feelings of loss
• Feelings of gratefulness for being alive
• Feelings of isolation or abandonment
• Feeling high, heroic, invulnerable
• Feeling a “lump in the throat”
• Feeling uncoordinated
• Hyperactivity or an inability to rest
• Increased heartbeat, respiration, blood pressure
• Increased alcohol use or substance abuse
• Intense concern for family members
• Inability to express self verbally or in writing
• Loss of appetite
• Loss of objectivity
• Lower back pain
• Memory problems
• Muffled hearing
• Nausea, upset stomach, diarrhea
• Pains in chest
• Periods of crying
• Persistent interest in the event
• Persistent or obsessive thoughts
• Sense of being in a bad dream
• Sense of unreality or being in a movie
• Sleep disturbance
• Slowness of thinking, difficulty comprehending
• Social withdrawal, limited contacts with others
• Soreness in muscles
• Stomach and muscle cramps
• Strong identification with victims
• Strong identification with survivors
• Sweating or chills
• Tremors, especially of hand, lips, eyes
• Trouble catching breath
• Visual flashbacks
Tips for Coping with Disaster Stress
1. Stay active. Falling into passivity can worsen psychological and physical disaster reactions.
2. Stay on track. Resume a normal routine as soon as possible. Tending to your daily schedule helps ground you in normalcy. For children, this is especially important.
3. Understand trauma. Remind yourself that it's expected to have these kinds of reactions in the face of the disastrous event. It's especially important to teach children that reactions like these are normal.
4. Don't numb your pain. Be aware that reducing or avoiding pain with drugs or alcohol will only lengthen your traumatic response.
5. Express yourself. Whether it's talking about your experience or expressing it in other forms, releasing your thoughts and feelings about the disaster will help you heal.
6. Reach out to others. While it's expected that you may want to be alone to deal with the trauma you've witnessed, studies shows that connecting to others helps us recover more quickly from disaster.
7. Unplug from media. When disaster strikes, the media tends to over-report and over-saturate the public with images, misinformation and high anxiety information. Limit your internet, television and radio experiences to help shield yourself from over-exposure.
8. Be patient with others. Realize that those around you are also under stress and may not act or react in a manner you would normally expect.
9. Watch your caffeine. Avoid caffeine as its effects can amplify anxiety and disaster stress response. So limit your intake of coffee, tea and chocolate.
10. Celebrate goodness. Remind yourself that there is exponentially more good in the world than bad. Celebrate kindness and beauty, and revive your connection to humanity so your mind, body and soul can heal.