Dr. Maxwell: Coping with the emotional impact of floods

Nancy Parker talks to Dr. Meredith Maxwell, M.D. about the stress and anxiety from flooding

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Floods carry risks to psychological as well as physical health. When floods occur, children may witness anxiety and fear in usually confident parents and caregivers. Families may lose pets and cherished memorabilia. Individuals may develop chronic emotional and behavioral problems following exposure to pervasive stresses, such as the loss of community infrastructure, of home or employment, or of family or friends. Dr. Meredith Maxwell from Touro shares some mechanisms for coping with stress.

Why is there an emotional response to floods? 
•    No one who lives through a disaster is untouched by the experience.
•    Disasters can threaten our sense of control and safety, and can affect many aspects of our lives.
•    Disaster stress that is unrecognized or unmanaged can impact our physical and mental health.

What happens if someone is experiencing emotional stress? 
•    Dealing with the emotional consequences soon after a disaster can help reduce the possibility of long-term problems.
•    Recognizing and handling stress properly can help you meet the challenges of recovering from a flood and reclaiming your sense of control and security.

What is the normal reaction to a distressful event? 
•    The first step in managing the emotional consequences of disasters is realizing that they are the "normal reactions, normal people have to abnormal situations." 
•    Keep in mind that worrying is normal, but excessive worrying is not.
•    Most disaster stress reactions are temporary and resolve by themselves over time.
•    For some people, these powerful emotional reactions do not go away quickly or by themselves.
o    That's when professional mental health services may be necessary.

What are some of the behaviors associated with emotional stress? 
•    Some of the more typical emotional reactions may include: 
o    Recurring dreams or nightmares about the floods
o    Trouble concentrating or remembering things
o    Feeling numb, withdrawn or disconnected
o    Having bursts of anger or intense irritability
o    Persistent physical symptoms (i.e., headaches, digestive problems, muscle tension, etc.)

What are the ways some people cope or manage their stress during this time? 
•    Remember that you are not alone.
•    Talking helps, and there are counselors available in your community and by telephone if you would like to share your thoughts and feelings.
•    To help you best manage the emotions associated with the flood, you should use the coping mechanisms that are familiar and comfortable for you.

What are some techniques for managing this stress? 
•    Some useful suggestions for coping with the stress and anxiety stemming from the flood include: 
o    Limiting your exposure to graphic news stories about the flood or other disasters
o    Getting back to your normal routine as soon as possible, this is especially important for children
o    Exercising, eating well and resting
o    Staying busy- physically and mentally
o    Communicating with friends, family and supporters
o    Keeping a sense of humor
o    Expressing yourself through writing, poetry, drawing, etc.

For more information visit www.touro.com.

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