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After the Storm — Coping with the Aftermath of a Natural Disaster

With the frequency of recent storms and the massive amount of rain that has fallen, parts of the Bay Area have been experiencing floods and other weather-related damage. Once the immediate threat is over, there may be some residual emotional trauma as the damage is assessed and the process of rebuilding or moving forward begins. Below are some warning signs that someone may be experiencing post-disaster trauma. 

The American Psychological Association cites these common symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD):

  • Unpredictable mood swings, with periods of anxiety and depression
  • Confusion or difficulty making decisions
  • Sleep or eating issues
  • Fear that the emotional event will be repeated
  • A change in interpersonal relationships skills, such as an increase in conflict or a more withdrawn and avoidant personality
  • Physical symptoms such as headaches, nausea, and chest pain
  • Repeated and intrusive memories of the event, causing physical stress reactions (e.g., sweating, rapid heartbeat, breathing difficulties, etc.
  • Difficulty concentrating

Post-disaster trauma is not limited to those who have been immediately impacted by a natural disaster — friends, loved ones, and family members who suffered no property loss or damage can also be impacted by post-disaster trauma.

If you think you or a loved one might be suffering from post traumatic stress following a natural disaster, rest assured that there is hope. Below are a few things you can do to build emotional well-being and gain a sense of control:

  • Be patient with yourself. Allow yourself to mourn, get emotional, and feel whatever comes your way, knowing that this will be a difficult time in your life. Give yourself time to heal and adjust.
  • Seek support. Social support from family and friends will be a key part of your disaster recovery. Getting through your symptoms of PTSD won’t happen in isolation, so it’s crucial that you open up and lean on your trusted network for emotional support.
  • Communicate about your experience. Express your feelings in whatever ways  feel comfortable for you. Whether it’s talking privately with a close family member or expressing yourself creatively, go with it and be open.
  • Find local support groups. Support groups in your area led by appropriately trained and experienced professionals are often available for survivors. You may find it extremely helpful and comforting to engage in group discussions with people who have experienced something similar.
  • Cope with excessive stress through positive and healthy behaviors. When you’re in a period of emotional fragility, it’s important to pay attention to your health and well-being. From eating well-balanced meals and getting enough sleep to exercising, be mindful of self-care. It’s equally important to avoid or limit numbing mechanisms such as alcohol or drugs, which may delay or detract from the healing and coping process.
  • Be mindful of establishing routines. In a time of uncertainty or distress, having positive routines will give you something to look forward to. Whether it’s pursuing a new hobby or taking a daily walk, these regular practices will keep you engaged.
  • Avoid making major life decisions. Now is not the time to make significant alterations in your life, such as moving or changing jobs, which tend to be highly stressful enough on their own.

Know that it can take time to cope with trauma after a natural disaster. If you or someone you love is persistently feeling distressed or hopeless or can barely carry out daily responsibilities and regular activities, please reach out to a mental health professional. Santa Clara Unified School District Wellness Coordinators can provide students, families, and staff with referrals for outside mental health services. In addition, district students, families, and staff can utilize Care Solace, an online resource with a live, multilingual care concierge meant to assist individuals in finding local mental health-related programs and counseling services.

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