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Practical Tips for Coping with Disaster and Stress

Important Things to Know About Disasters & Other Traumatic Events

Published:  October 25, 2017 at 4:00 PM

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Individuals and families impacted by the Sonoma County Complex Fires may be affected personally regardless of whether you were hurt, lost a loved one, or suffered damage or loss to your property. You can be affected just by witnessing the disaster. It is common to show signs of stress after exposure to a disaster like the Sonoma County Fires and therefore it is important to monitor your physical and emotional health.

Possible Reactions to a Disaster or Other Traumatic Events  

Try to identify your early warning signs of stress. Stress usually shows up in the four areas shown below, but everyone should check for ANY unusual stress responses after a disaster or other traumatic event. Below are some of the most common reactions.

You May Feel Emotionally

  • Anxious or fearful
  • Overwhelmed by sadness
  • Angry, especially if the event involved violence
  • Guilty, even when you had no control over the traumatic event  
  • Heroic, like you can do anything  
  • Like you have too much energy or no energy at all  
  • Disconnected, not caring about anything or anyone  
  • Numb, unable to feel either joy or sadness  

You May Have Physical Reactions, Such As

  • Having stomachaches or diarrhea
  • Having headaches or other physical pains for no clear reason
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Sweating or having chills
  • Getting tremors (shaking) or muscle twitches
  • Being jumpy or easily startled 

Practical Tips for Relieving Stress

These stress management activities seem to work well for most people. Use the ones that work for you.

Talk with others who understand and accept how you feel. Reach out to a trusted friend, family member, or faith-based leader to explore what meaning the event may have for you. Connect with other survivors of the disaster or other traumatic events and share your experience.

Body movement helps to get rid of the buildup of extra stress hormones. Exercise once daily or in smaller amounts throughout the day. Be careful not to lift heavy weights. You can damage your muscles if you have too much adrenaline in your system. If you don’t like exercise, do something simple, like taking a walk, gently stretching, or meditating.

Take deep breaths. Most people can benefit from taking several deep breaths often throughout the day. Deep breathing can move stress out of your body and help you to calm yourself. It can even help stop a panic attack. 

Listen to music. Music is a way to help your body relax naturally. Play music timed to the breath or to your heartbeat. Create a relaxing playlist for yourself and listen to it often.

Pay attention to your physical self. Make sure to get enough sleep and rest each day. Don’t leave resting for the weekend. Eat healthy meals and snacks and make sure to drink plenty of water. Avoid caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol, especially in large amounts. Their effects are multiplied under stress and can be harmful. 

Tips for Talking with Children and Youth of Different Age Groups After a Disaster or Traumatic Event

Preschool Children, 0– 5 Years Old

  • Give these very young children a lot of cuddling and verbal support.
  • Take a deep breath before holding or picking them up and focus on them, not the trauma.
  • Get down to their eye level and speak in a calm, gentle voice using words they can understand.
  • Tell them that you still care for them and will continue to take care of them so they feel safe.

Early Childhood To Adolescence, 6– 19 Years Old

  • Nurture children and youth in this age group:
  • Ask your child or the children in your care what worries them and what might help them cope.
  • Offer comfort with gentle words, a hug when appropriate, or just being present with them.
  • Spend more time with the children than usual, even for a short while. Returning to school activities and getting back to routines at home is important too.
  • Excuse traumatized children from chores for a day or two. After that, make sure they have age-appropriate tasks and can participate in a way that makes them feel useful.
  • Support children spending time with friends or having quiet time to write or create art.
  • Encourage children to participate in recreational activities so they can move around and play with others.
  • Address your own trauma in a healthy way. Avoid hitting, isolating, abandoning, or making fun of children.
  • Let children know that you care about them-spend time doing something special; make sure to check on them in a nonintrusive way.

When a Pet Dies

When a pet dies, it's common for people to feel as though they've lost a member of the family. For children, this is often their first encounter with death. In an attempt to soften the blow, parents sometimes explain the death of a pet in vague ways or skirt the topic altogether. But experts say this just makes things worse by leaving children anxious and mystified.

Explaining a pet's death to children in a clear, respectful manner can go a long way toward making the journey a little less distressful, and at the same time enhance your connection with your child.

Fire Information

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One-stop shop with critical services for residents who have been impacted by the fires. Services include FEMA, Small Business Administration, Social Security, US Postal Service, Social Services, Veterans Affairs, DMV, etc.

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