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Psychological Reactions To Disaster

Posted Jan 07 2009 6:53pm
by Deborah Serani, Psy.D.

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In light of the devastation and suffering from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, this list is offered to help individuals understand "Disaster Reactions". Witnessing a traumatic event sets into motion a variety of psychological reactions. These psychological reactions have physical, cognitive, emotional and behavioral presentations. This list is not exhaustive but serves to illustrate many of the reactions people experience.


Psychological Reactions

•Anger
•Anxiety
•Apathy, diminished interest in usual activities
•Appetite change
•Avoidance
•Blame
•Confusion
•Criticalness
•Decreased sexual interest
•Denial
•Depression
•Difficulty concentrating
•Difficulty making decisions
•Difficulty using logic
•Difficulty naming objects
•Difficulty focusing
•Disorientation
•Distortions in time perspective
•Exaggerated startle reaction
•Excessive worry about safety of others
•Emotional numbing
•Fatigue
•Faintness or dizziness
•Fearfulness
•Feelings of being unappreciated
•Feelings of inadequacy
•Feelings of loss
•Feelings of gratefulness for being alive
•Feelings of isolation or abandonment
•Feeling high, heroic, invulnerable
•Feeling a “lump in the throat”
•Feeling uncoordinated
•Forgetfulness
•Frustration
•Grief
•Guilt
•Headaches
•Helplessness
•Hyperactivity or an inability to rest
•Increased heartbeat, respiration, blood pressure
•Increased alcohol use or substance abuse
•Intense concern for family members
•Inability to express self verbally or in writing
•Irritability
•Letdown
•Loss of appetite
•Loss of objectivity
•Lower back pain
•Memory problems
•Muffled hearing
•Nausea, upset stomach, diarrhea
•Nightmares
•Numbness
•Pains in chest
•Periods of crying
•Persistent interest in the event
•Persistent or obsessive thoughts
•Sense of being in a bad dream
•Sense of unreality or being in a movie
•Shock
•Sleep disturbance
•Slowness of thinking, difficulty comprehending
•Social withdrawal, distancing, limited contacts with others
•Soreness in muscles
•Stomach and muscle cramps
•Strong identification with victims
•Strong identification with survivors
•Sweating or chills
•Tremors, especially of hand, lips, eyes
•Trouble catching breath
•Visual flashbacks
•Withdrawal


Coping with Disaster Stress

1. Stay active. Falling into passivity can worsen psychological and physical disaster reactions.

2. Resume a normal routine as soon as possible.

3. Remind yourself that you are normal and having normal reactions in the face of the disastrous event. It is especially important to teach children that reactions like these are normal.

4. Be aware of numbing the pain with overuse of drugs or alcohol.

5. Avoid caffeine as its effects can amplify anxiety.

6. It is all right to spend time by yourself, or on the other hand, feel the need to be with others.

7. Avoid over-exposure to media images and newscasts.

8. Realize that those around you are also under stress and may not act or react in a manner you would normally expect.

9. Keep a journal or start a blog. Written expression can have healing benefits.

10. Make decisions that will give you the control over your life.

Of course, consult a mental health professional if you need assistance in coping with disaster-related stress reactions.
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