Monday, March 21, 2011

Managing Stress During Catastrophic Events

During my life time, I’ve witnessed three major catastrophic events that where to overwhelming to rehash and effected everyone globally-September 11, Hurricane Katrina and the most recent tragedy of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Millions of lives were affected forever as well as lost. There are even lives that are still not accounted for in all three happenings.

There is no one way to really deal with trauma of this nature for individuals. However, bringing awareness and appropriate counseling are steps toward coping with such events. First, let’s define catastrophic: a sudden and widespread disaster; any misfortune, mishap or failure; a final event or conclusion, usually an unfortunate one; a disastrous end. In geology: a sudden, violent disturbance, especially of a part of the surface of the earth. Now, let’s define trauma (psychiatry): an experience that produces psychological injury or pain.

In this article, we will focus the 1st level of reaction; psychological and stressors, in order to bring awareness. In order to understand what is happening to us psychologically, we have clarity on the concepts of stress and trauma. We know stress and trauma to be a devastating situation that we’ve experienced in our course of living. Most of us may have only dealt with such devastating occurrences such as, financial woes, a relationship break up (family, friends and marital); racism, etc. This is part if life’s existence. Although pain is pain, whether it’s recognized as a common or not, when it’s happening to you, it feels as if you’re the only one that has ever experienced what you went through.

In contrast, the stressors are also known as ‘catastrophic’. This is generally outside of the normal human existence. This could involve violence, death or death threats, earthquakes in places that are not usually know for earthquakes can be devastating also. These occurrences tend to tamper our sense of security, our mental well being and of course, affect us psychologically. We feel threatened and worthless. There are stages (over a course of time) and depending on the level of catastrophe, one will have different levels of coping also.

I want to share with you an incident a friend of mine family experienced on three different occasions and how they dealt with it on three different levels. Their home was broken into three times. The detached garage door was kicked in, however, nothing was taken. They were a bit disoriented because they knew that they had locked the service door, however, it was jarred opened. She was in shock and startled. She felt afraid, nervous; scared someone could possibly be in the garage while attempting to get in her car. Thank God all was good. The door was fixed immediately. Know she’s experience violation of her property.

The second incident: She was coming home from work after picking up her daughter from the babysitter; parked the car in the garage and notice while backing up, she could see in her rear view mirror the back porch of her home. She noticed something glaring as she looked through her back porch window. As she attempted to get closer to the home, she notice the back porch door had been kicked in and knock slightly off the hinges. Nothing was taken and they did not attempt to come all the way completely in her home. So at this point, she’s feeling scared, nervous and violated again. She and her daughter immediately went back to the garage, called the CPD and her friends to come over before going into the home. She couldn’t understand why this happened for the second time. This stage is now in a state of confusion. She’s trying to rationalize it.

The last and third incident: her basement door was kicked completely off the hinge, broken pieces everywhere and this time the co prick came all the way in there home and upstairs into her daughters room. They completely disoriented her room looking for any quick items they could grab within the time frame they had due to the alarm system sounding off. Again, nothing was taken and according to her, there was nothing to take. On this day two things were going on. At the time of the incident, my friend was out of town on a business trip and just the day before, her youngest daughter asked could she stay home from school that day because she didn’t feel like going to school ( she’d asked twice) and was told NO for the second time. When this incident happened, she then began to become overwhelmed in thinking what could have happened if she would have let her daughter stay at home by herself that day. The third stage of emotions are now classified has being angry, frustrated and ready to take action. This is the third time her home has been invaded. As mentioned previously, a since of helplessness, worthless and threatened has now set in psychologically.

Although my friend’s incidents are not considered major to the world, but again, when it’s happening to you personally, it is major. Catastrophic or stressors reactions are generally irrational and out of sync which could lead to your ability to function on a day to day basis based on your experience. Experiencing trauma or stressors tend to replay constantly in or minds-flashbacks. With time, it will diminish slowly and happened less frequently. But again, that’s with time.

Avoidance of such incidents can interrupt the healing process. This will only reinforce itself, grow and consuming your live. After September 11th, people developed a fear of flying, reconsidering taking jobs in high rise buildings and began to start profiling people (being irrational).

There are a couple of was to facing fear. First, we have to learn how to reduce anxiety when this occurs by using simple relaxation techniques such as prayer, mediation, yoga, listening to music. Do what’s best to ease the thought to a stable or none existing state. Take baby steps, this will not happen overnight. With the time and the necessary treatment, this anxiety feeling will subside eventually.

I do know this for sure, when catastrophic incidents or trauma occurs, generally there are great opportunities, positive, personal and collective changes will happened globally. You may not have experienced any of the incidents mention, but we where all affected in a direct or indirect way.

In Good Health,

Cheryl Harris- The Stress-Less Professor
Profound Touch Mobile Spa

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