DES MOINES, Iowa - The long Fourth of July weekend offers an excellent opportunity to take a break from the stress and intense emotions caused by the recent storms, tornadoes and floods.
Everyone is affected by a disaster, even if they don't suffer direct losses. Emotions such as grief, sadness, shock, anger, helplessness and hopelessness are natural. Experts say it is important to talk about those emotions.
Stress caused by loss or traumatic experience can sneak up on people, too. It may not be recognized for weeks or months after the experience.
Here are warning signs of stress to be aware of:
Trouble concentrating or remembering things;
Difficulty making decisions;
Replaying the events and circumstances of the floods and storms over and over in your mind;
Feeling depressed, sad or down much of the time;
Experiencing anxiety or fear, especially when things remind you of the event;
Having trouble sleeping;
Physical distress such as chest pain and rapid heart beat.
You also should watch for signs of stress in the behavior of family, friends and neighbors. Some signs to look for are withdrawal, isolation, restlessness, emotional outbursts and being easily startled.
Mental health experts suggest many ways to relieve the symptoms of stress following a disaster:
Friends and family are good medicine. Talk with them about your feelings. Sharing common experiences helps people deal with and overcome anxiety and feelings of helplessness.
Also available is a free counseling service through the Project Recovery Program, which offers outreach services to Iowans affected by the recent disasters. Counselors have been on hand at disaster recovery centers in the hardest hit areas of the state. You may also call the Iowa Concern hotline at 1-800-447-1985, a call center operated by the Iowa State University Extension Service providing free counseling and referrals to health and human service agencies. Counselors take calls seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. An answering service is available during the remaining hours.
Children may not know how to express their feelings about what they see, whether they see it first hand or see it on television. Parents should talk to them about what is happening and assure them that they are safe.
Get back into your daily routines as soon as you can.
Maintain a healthy diet and get plenty of sleep.
Get physical exercise every day. Walking is a great way to relieve stress, and even better if you do it with someone else and talk about your feelings along the way.
Watch out for problems that are more than you can handle. If signs of stress are serious or if they persist, you should see a counselor or other mental health professional.
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Source: FEMA - FEMA coordinates the federal government's role in preparing for, preventing, mitigating the effects of, responding to, and recovering from all domestic disasters, whether natural or man-made, including acts of terror.