Coping When Disaster Strikes

A terrifying disaster like the Christchurch Earthquake has a huge impact on people. We are confronted with the fragility of life, with the unpredictability of our physical safety on this planet, and with our inability to protect ourselves and loved ones from such tragedies. Trauma people may have experienced earlier in their lives often gets triggered and they find themselves thrown back again into the depth of traumatisation.

When you have been touched by a traumatic event and you feel emotionally numb, irritable, angry, or tearful, don’t be self-critical because these feelings are some of the normal feelings people have as a response to an un-normal event. You might experience sleeplessness, hypervigilance, nightmares, or avoid thinking about what happend: all these reactions are normal. These symptoms may go on for several months and in some cases they could turn into a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Whilst we cannot ‘not’ be affected by trauma one way or the other, most people are free of any symptoms after a few months. However, there are a few things people can do to help coping whilst they experience trauma symptoms and to avoid longlasting problems.

The world has seen devastating catastrophic events such as natural disasters, extreme poverty and famine, wars, political terror, slavery, and the abuse of individuals on a grand scale. Yet, in the aftermath of devastation, traumatized individuals have usually been able to recover and rebuild their lives and their countries. One characteristic of human societies is that people come together and seek closeness with others to help with the integration of traumatic experiences. “Emotional attachment is probably the primary protection against feelings of helplessness and meaninglessness; it is essential for biological survival in children, and without it, existential meaning is unthinkable in adults” (Kolk & McFarlane, Traumatic Stress, 1996, p. 24).  Seeking and giving support when traumatic events strike is one of the most effective ways to help people cope.

In times of crisis and heightened stress the first rule of conduct is: BACK TO BASICS. In order to be able to keep up with the extra pressure on your emotional and physical functioning, its vital that you look after your basic needs first. You can only be of help to others when you are taken care of. A car without petrol is no use to anybody … it won’t run.

Make sure you get some decent amount of food – actually, foods high on carbohydrates (sugars) have a stress reducing effect – and don’t forget to stay hydrated. Without enough fluids we humans tend to not function that well. It is also important to get enough sleep, and if you can’t sleep, get some rest somehow. Stay active by either helping with the clean-up, running, cleaning up your yard or house, giving a hand to people in need.

It helps to stay away from alcohol, recreational drugs, and cigarettes. These substances compromise your thinking speed and quality, and they are an extra stress on your body.

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