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How to deal with the stress factor resulting from disasters and catastrophes

Some physical signs of stress are fatigue, chest pain and rapid heart beat
The stress factor is an often-overlooked phenomenon after any disaster

People are likely to experience at least one of several emotional responses due to disasters that affect health, emotions, and behavior. Some times the effects are temporary and in some cases it takes years to overcome it.

It has been more than three months since the President issued a disaster declaration for Rhode Island as a result of the severe storms and flooding occurring in March and April. While recovery is well under way, something often overlooked in the process is the stress "everyone" experiences as a result of coping with disaster, disaster recovery officials note.

"It is essential for people to understand that everyone who goes through a disaster experience is affected by it; no one is untouched," said Federal Emergency Management Agency Federal Coordinating Officer Craig A. Gilbert.

State Coordinating Officer J. David Smith agreed: "Long after the flood waters have receded - trash and debris removed; mold and mildew abated; homes, roads and bridges repaired - stress can remain. Individuals and families need to take steps to promote their physical and emotional healing. Make time for your mental health."

Many people are likely to experience at least one of several emotional responses that affect health, emotions, and behavior, according to the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals. Officials offer the following list of some stress indicators to look for, and tips for helping get through this difficult time.

Some emotional signs of stress include:

  • Trouble concentrating or remembering things
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Mentally replaying the events and circumstances of the flood over and over
  • Feeling depressed, sad or down much of the time
  • Experiencing anxiety
  • Sense of loss, anger or fear, especially when events bring reminders of the storms and flooding
  • Nightmares
  • Having trouble sleeping;
  • Increasing use of substances (drugs, alcoholic beverages, etc)
  • Feeling overwhelmed

Family members should help each other in dealing with disaster related stress and anxiety 

Some physical signs of stress are fatigue, chest pain and rapid heart beat. Some behavioral signs of stress are withdrawal and isolation, even from family and friends; restlessness; emotional outbursts and being startled easily. Be alert to problems that are more than you can handle. If signs of stress are serious or persistent, consider seeing a counselor or other mental health professional. Rhode Island has an active statewide 211 telephone referral system, which operates 24/7 and can be accessed for all disaster-related needs in the state.

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 can be done with a friend or relative. 


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