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Health Organization Says Anxiety, Stress Normal in Traumatic Situations

Feelings of anxiety, shock and disbelief are normal following a disaster like San Diego County's devastating wildfires and people should seek help, the nonprofit Mental Health America said today.

Feelings of anxiety, shock and disbelief are normal following a disaster like San Diego County's devastating wildfires and people should seek help, the nonprofit Mental Health America said today.

It is normal for people to have difficulty managing their feelings after major traumatic events, according to Mental Health America of San Diego.

If affected residents don't deal with the stress, it can be harmful to their mental and physical health, MHA officials said.


The organization offered some tips for coping during this difficult time:

-- Talk about it. By talking with others about the disaster, you can relieve stress and realize that others share your feelings.

-- Spend time with friends and family. They can help you through this tough time. If your family lives outside the area, stay in touch by phone. If you have any children, encourage them to share their concerns and feelings about the disaster with you.

-- Take care of yourself. Get plenty of rest and exercise, and eat properly. If you smoke or drink coffee, try to limit your intake, because nicotine and caffeine can also add to your stress.

-- Limit exposure to images of the disaster. Watching or reading news about the event over and over again will only increase your stress.


-- Find time for activities you enjoy. Read a book, go for a walk, watch a movie or do something else you find enjoyable. These healthy activities can help you get your mind off the disaster and keep the stress in check.

-- Take one thing at a time. For people under stress, an ordinary workload can sometimes seem unbearable. Pick one urgent task and work on it. Once you accomplish that task, choose the next one. "Checking off" tasks will give you a sense of accomplishment and make things feel less overwhelming.

-- Do something positive. Give blood, prepare "care packages" for people who have lost relatives or their homes or jobs, or volunteer in a rebuilding effort. Helping other people can give you a sense of purpose in a situation that feels "out of your control."

-- Avoid drugs and excessive drinking. Drugs and alcohol may temporarily seem to remove stress, but in the long run they generally create additional problems that compound the stress you were already feeling.

-- Ask for help when you need it. If your feelings do not go away or are so intense that they interfere with your ability to function in daily life, talk with a trusted relative, friend, doctor or spiritual advisor about getting help. Make an appointment with a mental health professional to discuss how well you are coping with the recent events. You could also join a support group. Don't try to cope alone. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness.

According to Mental Health America, common reactions to disasters include:

       -- Disbelief and shock;

       -- Fear and anxiety about the future;

       -- Disorientation; difficulty making decisions or concentrating;

       -- Apathy and emotional numbing;

       -- Nightmares and reoccurring thoughts about the event;

       -- Irritability and anger;

       -- Sadness and depression;

       -- Feeling powerless;

       -- Changes in eating patterns; loss of appetite or overeating;

       -- Crying for "no apparent reason";

       -- Headaches, back pains and stomach problems;

       -- Difficulty sleeping or falling asleep; and,

       -- Increased use of alcohol and drugs.

People affected by the disaster can call local resources, including: 

-- The Access and Crisis Line at 800-479-3339;

-- 2-1-1 San Diego at 211;

-- Mental Health America at 619-543-0412; and,

-- NAMI at 619-543-1434 or 800-523-5933.

Mental Health America of San Diego is part of a national network with 340 affiliates, said Scott Suckow, its chief executive officer.