Lots of things were uprooted this week during Hurricane Sandy. Huge trees we thought would give us shade and beauty forever. Boats belonging in water forced to awkward positions on land, and even onto railroad tracks. Amusement rides loved in childhood and still enjoyed as adults forever washed out to sea. Homes, meant for comfort and stability, burned to the ground, no longer even identifiable. And, most importantly, lives. Too many lives, tragically and swiftly ended with this storm.
Loss. Lots of it. Too much of it to take in, really. Major things that really matter are gone or destroyed.
It’s really a time of mourning. Even as we New Yorkers pick ourselves up and get on with being our resilient selves, it’s really a time of mourning, isn’t it? It’s important to acknowledge that part of the aftermath of this unprecedented storm. And, it’s okay to talk about it and be sad, even with our kids.
Sometimes after something bad happens, we are simply too quick to get past it, or get over it, or not let it bother us, that we ignore a basic human need to mourn, to grieve what is lost.
We lost human lives; family members, community members.
We lost possessions we cared about; homes, trees, boats, boardwalks, and more, lots more.
We also lost a sense of security, of stability, of sure footedness. The storm was incredibly scary to go through.
Recognizing all this and giving ourselves time and place to grieve is part one of cleaning up emotionally after Sandy. Part one is a kind of saying “goodbye” and recognizing what is lost. Everyone had their own experience in this storm. Everyone brought their own past and abilities to handling this storm. Some will need more time to recover.
Those who have the most intense experiences and lost most will need more time. Those who were exposed to the worst damages will need longer. Those who have serious health problems or other recent losses may need longer as well.
When we have a loss on top of other losses or times of high stress we simply don’t recover as fast. And, we shouldn’t expect to really, even if we are usually strong and capable. Take the time you need. Be patient with yourself if you find yourself less emotionally stable than usual. Give the time others need. Be sensitive to how others are different from you. Some may need professional help to get through.
Part two is finding ways to keep going on, to cope, recover, and flourish again. Part two is a kind of saying “hello” and finding our balance again. Here are some steps to get started on part two:
Turn off the television. Just turn it off. This is easy to do if you are still without power, but, even if you have power, turn it off. By now, most of us, including children, have watched hours and hours of storm forecasting and coverage. Take a break from the scary images and reporting. Each terrifying prediction, each scary video, and each worrisome analysis is taken as fact by children. Children are literal thinkers, so hearing and watching continual news hype and reporting can increase fear and create high levels of unneeded stress. Keep the kids away, even if they seem drawn to it and ask to watch. And, do yourself an emotional favor and keep the scary stuff to Halloween festivities, not listening to more storm reporting.
Maintain routine as best as possible. Everyone thrives on routine; especially children. So keep what routine you can in place. It will provide a needed sense of calm and help the whole family relax during a stressful time.
Get together with others. There’s nothing like a natural disaster to help us recognize what is most important in life. Isn’t it people and relationships that matter the most? So, connect, communicate, and cherish. Oh, and, if you have power, offer to share with others, especially a hot shower! Why not reach out to someone who might have limited support systems too? Pulling together after tough times is something that not only is needed, but boosts us up emotionally.
Recognize resilience and go for it. How have you gotten through tough times before? Go back to your toolbox of coping skills and use them this time again. Take a good look at what needs to be done, break it into smaller parts, and start on one part. Then, keep going. Work together with others in your family or community if you can. Give yourself pats on the back as you accomplish things.
Remember, you are only human. And, that means you have a body to take care of. So, do it. If you have children, you responsibilities get larger. Stress and trauma can mess us up physically as well as emotionally. So, try to eat healthy foods, get enough sleep, and drink lots of water. Limit junk food, sugary drinks, and alcohol. Keep exercise routines in place, as best you can. If you have trouble getting to sleep, try relaxation techniques to help you get ready.
Cultivate gratitude. An attitude of gratitude goes far. Gratitude helps us hold on to hope. Hope that things can get better, and will. Gratitude helps us notice things that we might just pass over. It changes our emotions inside. Here’s one way to cultivate this positive attitude; ask “what could be worse?” Then, answer your question. It is a way to immediately help your thoughts turn to what isn’t worse and what you can be thankful for. I know, it’s only Halloween, but it isn’t too early to get started on Thanksgiving.
The worst is over; Sandy is no longer over our heads. Please be gentle with yourselves and those around you in the coming days and weeks as we all go through both part one and part two of recovering emotionally. Pay attention to both parts. If you are parenting, remember, most of all, children (and teens) need to have the assurance they will be taken care of, both before, during, and after the storms of life.
If either part, the grieving or the recovery, seem stuck, consider getting professional help. It’s a good thing to do, even if you haven’t done it before. If you have trouble getting back to the routine of daily life, or if problems persist and negatively affect your relationships or work, it’s time to consider getting unstuck with the help of a mental health professional. For children, if you see a preoccupation with the hurricane or fear of a natural disaster, new problems at school, intense anxiety, or a sudden change in behavior, professional assistance is advised. A school counselor, teacher, or psychologist can help you know if this step is needed.
I wish you the best as you, and those you love, go through both part one and part two of your emotional recovery.
About this column: Tamera Schreur is an internationally experienced psychotherapist with a new practice in Scarsdale, NY serving individuals, couples and families. She has 20 years of experience helping people build stronger relationships and better lives. Visit her website at: http://www.FamilyTherapyInWestchester.com