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Surviving the Stress After a Natural Disaster

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Natural disasters come in many forms. Fires, floods or drought can leave behind a trail of destruction. One thing common to most disasters is the overwhelming stress felt by those affected.
Stress impacts those who may have lost homes or loved ones. But even those who don't suffer these direct losses may feel anguish because of the devastation to their communities.
Effects of stress
Stress can cause both physical and emotional reactions, but how any one person will respond can be hard to predict. When disaster strikes, some people fall apart and can hardly move. Others spring into action and seem to pack their emotions away. Some find it hard to eat, while others turn to food for comfort. Anxiety may make it hard to sleep or may cause headaches. Some people get sick because their defenses are down.
If you have been affected by a disaster, you can expect you'll have a range of emotions, whether they start right away or later on. Many people will feel anger that so much was taken from them. Grief will strike those who lost friends, family members, beloved pets or a lifetime of treasured possessions. Others may experience guilt if their home or family survived, but others nearby did not.
First steps to recovery
Recovering from a disaster is a long process, both mentally and physically. These steps may help you get started.
  • At first, just put one foot in front of the other. It's easy to get overwhelmed if you take on too much at once. Put aside difficult long-term issues for now. Deal with what's most important today or this week. Expand your scope when you feel able to.
  • Take care of your health. Be sure to eat regularly, get as much rest as you can and drink fluids to avoid dehydration. Take any prescribed medicines.
  • Try to get back to your routine. Go to bed and get up around the same time each day, if possible. Have meals at your usual times. Get back to work or school when you can.
  • Reach out to others. Spend time with people you care about. Tell your story and listen to theirs.
  • Grieve your losses. Cry when you need to. Rant if it helps. Let your emotions out and urge your loved ones to do the same. Expressing your feelings can help you heal.
  • Get professional help if you need it. Sometimes, the emotional reaction to a stressful event can be too much to deal with on your own. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It just means you're human.
If you need help
If you have survived a disaster and need help, try the following sources:
  • The American Red Cross maintains a "Safe and Well List" where you can list your status and search for family and friends. Go to
  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Web site has general information on dealing with emergencies. Check the Web site at or call 1-800-621-FEMA.
  • The U.S. Department of Labor helps people who've survived disasters get unemployment benefits, find jobs and get job training. In some cases, it provides grant money to pay people to help with disaster cleanup and recovery. Look on the Web site at or call 1-866-4-USA-DOL (1-866-487-2365).
If you want to help
There are many way you can help in the wake of a disaster:
  • Give blood. Check with local hospitals or blood banks, or call the American Red Cross at 1-800-448-3543.
  • Volunteer. The nonprofit VolunteerMatch can help you find opportunities in your area using their Emergency Response map. Check the Web site at
  • Give money or goods. Check with trusted organizations in your area to find out what supplies are needed and where to take them or how to make a cash donation. FEMA supports the AidMatrix Network, which can help you find nonprofit organizations in your area (
  • Donate pet food and supplies. After a disaster, animal shelters are often overwhelmed with injured, lost or abandoned pets. Contact your local Humane Society or Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) to find out what goods are needed.


Finding Peace After Trauma: PTSD Symptoms and Recovery

You don't have to suffer in silence from PTSD. There is help and treatment available to you.

It seems with all of the wars, natural or human disasters, and domestic crimes, it’s no wonder health care professionals are seeing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) on the rise. PTSD is a type of anxiety disorder that develops after an individual has witnessed or experienced a traumatic event. PTSD was thought to primarily be associated with war veterans, but it is now prevalent amongst victims of sexual assault, abuse, domestic violence, divorce and accidents. PTSD is also being reported amongst our emergency response personnel like firefighters, police officers and paramedics.
In terms of mental health disorders, anyone can be susceptible to PTSD simply because we are all human and have the same response to extreme stress and trauma. Our brain and body is designed to handle stress, especially the threat of physical danger. We have a fight or flight reflex that sends messages from our brain to our body to help keep us protected. However, someone suffering from PTSD still feels threatened or re-lives that threat even when there is no danger present.
It’s hard to get exact statistics with number of people who have PTSD because many people do not want to report they have a mental health disorder. However, it is estimated in the United States 3.5 percent of adults suffer from PTSD and the average onset of PTSD is 23 years old.
People who suffer from PTSD may experience symptoms such as trouble sleeping, memory loss, blackouts, and phobias about certain places or people. In addition, they can suffer from flashbacks, hyper-vigilance, irritability and anger. Unfortunately, those who suffer from PTSD are more likely to turn to alcohol and drug use, especially if their PTSD goes without treatment.
It’s best to seek out professional help if you suspect you are or a loved one is affected by PTSD. There are a variety of treatment options, including counseling, group therapy, educational classes and medication. Health care professionals have found that educating their patients about PTSD is therapeutic because the patients understand that they are not the only ones going through it.
The first step in recovering from PTSD is to seek out professional help. During treatment, patients can acquire the tools and skills necessary to cope with their traumatic experience. It is possible to find joy and peace after trauma and that is what seeking treatment is all about.

Fewer and fewer stories of radiation realities in and issuing from Japan are being reported

Emotional Resilience In Traumatic Times
By Carolyn Baker
15 April, 2011
While mainstream media has been encouraging collective dithering over a possible U.S. government shutdown, the chilling realities of off-the-chart levels of radiation from the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, escalating upheavals throughout the Middle East, and surging oil prices have been simmering in the background, remaining the lethal environmental, geopolitical, and economic time bombs that they are. Weeks ago, I was well aware that a government shutdown was highly unlikely but would be used to distract our attention from more urgent matters, and thus, I reported only one story about it in my Daily News Digest.
I recently returned from Northern California where residents there were profoundly anxious regarding the effects of radiation on the West Coast from Fukushima. How not, when on April 1, the San Francisco area newspaper, Bay Citizen, reported that “Radiation from Japan rained on Berkeley during recent storms at levels that exceeded drinking water standards by 181 times and has been detected in multiple milk samples, but the U.S. government has still not published any official data on nuclear fallout here from the Fukushima disaster”?
In typical American media fashion, out of sight, out of mind. Fewer and fewer stories of radiation realities in and issuing from Japan are being reported. An occasional comment surfaces, usually assuring us that we have nothing to fear. It’s all so benign. Apparently, we can now move on to “really important” stories like Obama’s 2012 campaign and the royal wedding.
And yet, whether explicitly stated or not, Americans and billions of other individuals throughout the world, are not only terrified about radiation but about their economic future—an economic future which will be inexorably more ruinous as a result of the Japan tragedy and its economic ripples globally. By that I do not mean that they feel mild anxiety about embellishing their stock portfolios, but rather, are feeling frightened about how they are going to feed their families, where they will live after losing their house in foreclosure, where they might find employment in a world where having a full-time job is becoming increasingly rare, how they will access healthcare without insurance or the money to pay out of pocket, or how they will make ends meet in forced or voluntary retirement.
Obviously, these anxieties are relevant to the world’s middle classes and not to teeming masses of human beings living on two dollars per day or less. Ironically, however, it is frequently the case that for all the suffering of abjectly impoverished human beings, they have seldom known any other standard of living and have learned how to survive on virtually nothing. They hear no reports of nuclear meltdowns, and even if they did, such news would seem insignificant in the face of needing to secure food or water for today—a type of existence that contains its own traumas and yields dramatically short lifespans.
Having inhabited a middle class existence, one can only comfort oneself for so long by reflecting on the plight of the destitute in far off places. One’s immediate reality is an anomalous deprivation, a stark loss of the familiar, and the looming reality that things will not get better, but only worse, and that these losses are unpredictably punctuated with frightening events such as extreme weather, natural disasters, nuclear meltdowns, or the terrifying consequences of rotting infrastructure such as pipeline explosions or collapsing bridges. These realities take their toll on the body—sleepless nights, a weakened immune system, moodiness, anger, depression, despair, and often, suicidal thinking. Whether the trauma is dramatic and frequent such as a 9.0 earthquake in Japan followed by high intensity aftershocks, or whether it slowly grinds on amid a disquieting sense of the permanent loss of so much that one held dear, the landscapes of countless lives are forever, painfully altered, emotionally littered with charred shells of once exuberant and robust routines.
Yes YOU Have Been Traumatized
But, you may argue, I haven’t been traumatized. My life is amazingly normal. I’m weathering the collapse of industrial civilization reasonably well and feel profoundly grateful.
Indeed I celebrate your good fortune, but I must add that no inhabitant of industrial civilization is without trauma because that paradigm is by definition, traumatizing.
It is only when you understand the extent to which you have been traumatized outside of your awareness that you can effectively prepare for and yes, welcome, the demise of empire and its ghastly assaults on your soul and the earth community.
In the face of extreme weather events and earth changes, skyrocketing food and energy prices, increasingly dramatic expressions of civil unrest globally, massive unemployment, global economic evisceration of the middle classes, and the proliferation of toxins worldwide—whether from fracking in Pennsylvania or leaking reactors in Japan, we are all in varying states of emotional breakdown and breakthrough. The sands are shifting under the feet of all human beings on this planet. Nothing is as it seems. “Things fall apart,” said William Butler Yeats, “the center cannot hold.”
Call it whatever you like—collapse, Transition, Great Turning. Put a happy face on it or a terrified one, but regardless of how you spin it, regardless of how much you want to feel good about it—and there is much to feel good about, the changes are dizzying, sometimes delightful, sometimes devastating. Yes, it’s an exciting time to be alive, and it’s an excruciating time to be alive. Sometimes one feels schizophrenic, sometimes bipolar. But all of that, yes all of that, is traumatizing to the human nervous system, and if we don’t recognize that, we’re probably hiding out in the “Hurt Locker” of empire.
So how do we not hide out? How do we face our trauma, begin healing it, and protect ourselves as much as humanly possible from further wounding, particularly as life becomes even more traumatic?
The Transition movement has provided us with a treasure-trove of resources for cultivating logistical resilience in our communities through awareness-raising, reskilling, and creating self-sufficient and sustainable communities. Anyone not involved in this kind of logistical preparation is only half-awake, yet many individuals believe that no other preparation is necessary. Might that not, in fact, be one characteristic of trauma? Just as the PTSD-scarred combat veteran insists that all he needs is another good battle to make him feel better, it may be that the hunger for one more gold or silver coin, one more case of freeze-dried food, one more bucket of barley, one more permaculture class, one more emergency response training is yet another means of avoiding the emotional healing and preparation work every human being needs to do in order to navigate the accelerating unraveling of the world as we have known it.
A Few Ways Of Developing Emotional Resilience
1) Understand that industrial civilization is inherently traumatizing. Make a list of the ways it has wounded you and those you care about.
2) If you are involved with a Transition initiative, start or join a heart and soul group where the psychology of change (see The Transition Handbook) can be discussed in depth and group members can share feelings about the acceleration of collapse as well as share how they are preparing for it emotionally.
3) Become familiar with your emotional repertoire and how you deal with your emotions—or not. Imagine the kinds of emotions that you and others are likely to feel in an unraveling world. How do you imagine yourself dealing with those emotions? How would you prefer to deal with them?
4) Think about how you need to take care of yourself right now in an increasingly stressful world. What stresses do you need to pull back from? What self-nurturing activities do you need to increase?
5) Who is your support system? If you do not have people in your life with whom you can discuss the present and coming chaos, you are doubly stressed. Find people with whom you can talk about this on a regular basis.
6) What are you doing to create joy in your life? Do you have places in your life where you can have fun without spending money or without talking about preparation for the future?
7) What are you doing to create beauty? Life may become uglier on many levels, including the physical environment. How can you infuse more beauty into the world? Use art, music, poetry, dance, theater, storytelling and other media to enhance the beauty of your community and your immediate environment.
8) Consider creating a regular poetry reading salon in which people come together perhaps monthly to share poems or stories which express the full range of human emotions. Many communities have found poetry sharing events to be incredibly rich venues for deepening connections and their own emotional resilience.
9) Spend as much time as possible in nature. Read books and articles on ecopsychology and take contemplative walks or hikes in which you intentionally engage in dialog with nature.
10) Engage at least twice a day in some kind of mindfulness practice such as meditation, inner listening, journaling, guided visualization. Still another tool for mindfulness and community deepening is sacred earth-based rituals which can be done individually or shared in a group.
It is important to remember that challenging experiences are not necessarily traumatizing experiences. The collapse of industrial civilization will be challenging for those who have been preparing for it; for those who haven’t, it will constitute massive trauma. The less attached we are to living life as we have known it, and the more open and resilient we are—the more we are utilizing the myriad tools that exist for preparing our emotions, our bodies, and our souls for collapse, the more capacity we create for navigating a formidable future.
All of the above suggestions are related to releasing stress from the mind and body. As the external stresses of an unraveling civilization accumulate, we all need ways for letting go of them. My friend, Jerry Allen, of Transition Sebastopol, California who is also a Marriage and Family Therapist, recently penned an article entitled “The Importance of Effectively Discharging Accumulated Stress As Our World Moves Into Crisis,” in which he states:
Learning to effectively release accumulated stress is not some peripheral process that is needed primarily to treat returning soldiers and victims of abuse, as important as that treatment is. Learning to let go of accumulated stress and discharge new stresses is a vital skill for all of us who are preparing ourselves to face the unknown future. It is as important as doing physical emergency preparations. We have witnessed the chaos, rage and panic that can grip communities when devastating changes happen. When panic hits as someone yells “fire” in a crowded theatre, other voices need to be ready to stand aside and start singing loudly to calm the people and re-direct their energies. Such work has saved hundreds of people from trampling deaths in panicked crowds. If we are still too activated by our own build up of trauma, we will not be in a position to discharge fast and take quick decisive community initiative.
As we prepare to serve in a helping role among many, it makes sense to train a vibrant cadre of our community members on how to cultivate body awareness, let go of stress fast, remobilize our adaptive capacity and be ready for action. It also makes sense to explore and adapt the use of story, song, dance, ritual and whatever works to help our communities come together, heal together and strengthen our joint body for action.
My just-published book Navigating The Coming Chaos: A Handbook For Inner Transition is chock full of re-usable tools for creating and maintaining vibrant emotional resilience. It is also ideal for use in Transition heart and soul or study groups focused on creating emotional resilience.
I do not assume that a world of increasing crises will be a world devoid of cooperation or community building. In her brilliant 2009 book, A Paradise Built In Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise In Disaster, Rebecca Solnit notes that in most natural disasters, human beings, in most cases, unite in a spirit of cooperation to support each other. While I certainly concur and reviewed Solnit’s book in an article entitled, “Disaster: The Gift That Keeps On Giving,” I am also well aware that cooperation is not the only response to trauma. Furthermore, the collapse of industrial civilization is most likely to play out in an irregular, “lumpy” fashion in different locations at different times. How it plays out and over what period of time will dictate how humans respond. One thing is certain: Responses will not always be benevolent, caring, and cooperative.
Thus we must prepare for a very uncertain future by consciously cultivating emotional resilience. This involves addressing the myriad ways in which we have been traumatized by the current paradigm and training with intention for encountering situations in the future which may be even more emotionally challenging in a world unraveling.
For readers living in Northern California, I recommend “Readiness Amid Chaos,” a support group facilitated by Jerry Allen and Suzie Gruber, beginning May 9 in Santa Rosa. For more information, contact Suzie at

Male Victims of Domestic Abuse May Show Signs of PTSD

-- Men who are victims of domestic abuse by their female partners can develop psychological trauma, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and suicidal thoughts, new research finds.
Researchers looked at a group of 302 men who sought professional help after experiencing what the researchers called "intimate terrorism," which refers to high levels of violence and controlling behavior by female partners.
Another 520 men took part in a telephone survey that asked about their relationships. Sixteen percent of these men said they had experienced minor acts of violence and mental abuse during arguments with their female partners. This type of abuse was referred to as "common couple violence."
In both groups of men, who ranged in age from 18 to 59, there were associations between abuse and PTSD symptoms. However, the men who experienced "intimate terrorism" had a much greater risk of developing PTSD.
The findings appear in the April issue of the journal Psychology of Men & Masculinity.
"This is the first study to show that PTSD is a major concern among men who sustain partner violence and seek help," study leader Denise Hines, a research assistant professor in the department of psychology at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., said in a journal news release.
A second study in the same journal summarized past research on domestic abuse against men. Prior research has found that men are less likely to report injuries from abuse, and police are less likely to arrest women accused of domestic violence against men.
More information
Oregon Counseling has more about domestic abuse against men.
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