In addition to restoring structures and replacing lost possessions after a natural disaster, families may need to rebuild their emotional equilibrium. "Recognizing the symptoms of stress is the first step to recovering your sense of emotional balance," says Sean Brotherson, North Dakota State University Extension Service family science specialist. |
Although floods may not destroy buildings in the manner of tornadoes or hurricanes, the process of cleaning up mud- and mildew-filled houses can be emotionally overwhelming and fraught with health risks. Risks associated with the clean-up process include electrocution; infected skin wounds; injuries by wild animals; and illness from poor quality water, food, and indoor air. Cleaning one's home after a flood is an exhausting process, and this fatigue can lead to increased accidents. Losses in agricultural regions include livestock, crops, and farming equipment; thus, the secondary financial and emotional stresses associated with floods can last long after the waters subside.
Floods carry risks to psychological as well as physical health. When floods occur, children may witness anxiety and fear in usually confident parents and caregivers. They may see adults' best efforts fail to protect their homes. Children may lose pets, cherished memorabilia, and toys; they may not understand why parents must dispose of contaminated belongings during the clean-up process. Children may also experience the horror of seeing severely injured people or dead bodies. Adults may find it difficult to gauge the emotional impact of floods on children, who often hide their symptoms to avoid worrying them.
As with other natural disasters, there may be a spectrum of psychological responses. The condition of individuals with preexisting emotional and behavioral problems may be exacerbated if their support systems fail, they lack medications, and their routine is destabilized. Individuals may develop chronic emotional and behavioral problems following exposure to pervasive stresses, such as the loss of community infrastructure, of home or employment, or of family or friends. In addition, emotional exhaustion and physical wear and tear may delay the recovery of an individual or family. The severe disruption and stress that floods can cause in a household may lead to an increase in family dysfunction or a risk of abuse.
Children and adults frequently experience traumatic reminders, during which individuals will suddenly relive all the emotions, fears, thoughts, and perceptions they initially had at the time of the flood. Typical traumatic reminders are flood watches and warnings, the sudden onset of dark clouds, bolts of lightning, thunder, and rain.
Here are some ways to deal with disaster-related stress:
* Don't expect your home, business or life will be restored instantly. Accept that physical and mental restoration takes time. * Determine what's really important. Keep in mind that other family members' ideas of what should be a top priority may not be the same as yours. * Focus on the big picture, not the little details and little problems. * Learn to accept that you may not be able to control some of the things happening around you, so save your energy for things you can control. * Make a list of things that need to be done and the order in which they need to be done. Don't try to do everything at once or nothing will get done right. * Realize that expressing disbelief, anger, sadness, anxiety and depression after a disaster are normal. * Realize that your emotions and moods can change unexpectedly. * Don't overlook your children's feelings. They need to feel they can count on you for extra attention, love and support. * Make sure your children understand they are not responsible for the problems the family is facing. * Be reassuring but honest about the problems the family is facing. This can help children feel more in control. * If the family is facing financial problems, ask children to help think of ways to cut costs. * Make sure your family eats nourishing foods. * Get enough sleep – at least seven to eight hours a night. Avoid sleeping pills because they can have a negative effect on normal sleeping patterns. * Talk with friends, family, counselors or clergy. * Don't be afraid to ask for help.
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