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Post-Sandy Emotional Self-Care for Nurses and Others

November 19, 2012

Hurricane Sandy, from International Space Station at 16:55:32 GMT on Oct. 29, 2012 / NASA

By Donna Sabella, MEd, MSN, PhD, RN, mental health nurse, AJN contributing editor, and coordinator of the monthly Mental Health Matters column

With the recent devastation caused by Sandy in the mid-Atlantic and New England areas we need to be mindful that the harm done in such events goes beyond property and the physical domains. Many exposed to Sandy’s wrath may be suffering from varying degrees of stress and psychological trauma. It is important to remember that, along with taking care of our physical needs, in the process of getting back to normal we also need to be mindful of our emotional needs and reach out for help as necessary.

As health care providers we nurses pride ourselves on being able to handle anything that comes our way as we strive to give patients the best care possible, but it is important for us to be aware of our own emotional needs during times of crisis and disaster. Sandy is considered a disaster—for those affected by the storm, either directly or indirectly, the experience can lead to thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are outside our usual range, and which may indicate it’s time to seek help. Below, I offer some information that provides tips on how to take psychological care of ourselves after Sandy :

  • Know that your responses to the situation are in most cases a normal reaction to an abnormal situation and that things do improve over time.
  • Give yourself time to heal and be good to yourself emotionally. Be patient with yourself and find ways, no matter how small, to do something nice for yourself or do something you enjoy. Make sure you take care of your emotional needs before addressing everyone else’s.
  • Take care of yourself physically as well. As much as possible in your situation and circumstances get plenty of rest, eat well, and avoid using alcohol or drugs to make yourself feel better. While drinking or using drugs, even prescribed medications, may result in temporary relief of stress and anxiety, over time doing so could lead to serious problems.
  • Realize that symptoms do not always occur immediately after a crisis or disaster and that there are several psychological stages we go through after a disaster. For some, symptoms can take months or years to manifest themselves; we each proceed through these stages at our own pace.
  • Should you experience such symptoms as mood swings, “re-experiencing” particular events, hyperarousal, avoidance, depression, trouble sleeping, or  cognitive difficulties, consider seeking help, especially if any symptoms prevent you from feeling like yourself and interfere with your normal routines and normal level of functioning.

Below are some resources and information regarding postdisaster mental health issues that I hope you will find helpful. Just because we are nurses does not mean that we have to go it alone during these trying times. For anyone experiencing severe symptoms and a psychiatric emergency, help can be found in your local emergency department or by calling 911. Your local Red Cross is also available to provide help and support. Otherwise, to find out more, please visit the Web sites listed below:

“Mental Health and Hurricane Sandy: What Can We Expect, and What Can We Do?”

MedlinePlus Resource Page on Coping with Disasters

U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services: Hurricane Sandy Response and Recovery in the Mid-Atlantic Region (scroll down to list of mental health resources on page)

For those in the New York area:

New York State Office of Mental Health: Hurricane Sandy Resources

For those in the New Jersey area:

Mental Health Association in New Jersey: Mental Health Resources Following Sandy

New Jersey State Hurricane Sandy Resources page

If you have questions or would like more information, please feel free to contact me at sabellad@arcadia.edu. My best to you and yours for a peaceful Thanksgiving.

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