If you’ve been feeling sad, anxious or depressed lately, chances are you’re not alone. Between last month’s mass shooting in Las Vegas, three monstrous hurricanes that struck Texas, Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico and devastating wildfires in California, there’s been a steady stream of tragic events recently. In addition to the tremendous loss of life and billions of dollars in damages caused by these events, there’s also a psychological toll, even for those who were not directly affected.
We know that experiencing traumatic events firsthand can cause feelings of shock, sorrow, fear, anger and grief. It’s not unusual for victims to experience the symptoms of depression, including difficulty sleeping, concentrating or eating. Others can also experience these feelings. The 24/7 news cycle, Internet and social media make it easy to stay informed, but also make it easier to be affected by these tragic events. “There is a vicarious reaction. When we see people flooded out of their homes, pets lost, belongings rotting in the streets and people scared out of their wits, we experience an empathic identification with the victims,” said psychiatrist and Georgetown University professor Dr. Lise Van Susteren.
This reaction is known as secondary traumatic stress. Feelings of anxiety, sadness and guilt are normal reactions to abnormal situations. And while it’s okay to feel this way, it’s important to understand that these feelings can have an effect on our lives at home and at work. Sometimes these symptoms appear right away. Other times it can be days or weeks later. If you are experiencing any of these feelings, or even if you just don’t feel like yourself, you should take steps to address it. Whether it’s linked to the catastrophic events of the last few months or another less publicized trauma in your own life, taking action is better than bottling it up and hoping those feelings will pass on their own. Here are some suggestions that may help improve your emotional health and help you cope:
- Share your feelings with family, friends or others who support you.
- Structure your time and keep busy; maintain normal routines and do activities that make you happy.
- Eat well-balanced and regularly-timed meals.
- Don’t fight recurring thoughts, images, flashbacks or dreams – they will decrease with time.
- Don’t numb yourself with alcohol or drugs.
- Go to bed at your regular time.
- Remember, there is no set time frame for your reaction to subside; each person’s situation is different, so be patient.
- If these suggestions aren’t effective for your situation, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
If you have trouble getting to sleep:
- Avoid caffeine at least six hours before bed.
- Do some gentle stretching exercises before going to bed.
- Avoid naps in the late afternoon or evening.
- Read a light book or magazine before bed.
- Listen to relaxing music or a meditation recording before bed.
- Do not watch TV just before bed and avoid other lit screens an hour before bed.
- If you are tossing and turning, focus on relaxing rather than falling asleep – sleep will follow.
The Fund also has a variety of brochures and health alerts pertaining to stress management that can benefit workers. These include the Stress: An Overview and Stress Management: Handle Stress the Healthy Way Health Alerts and the Stress Management Toolbox Talk. You can order these materials by going to www.lhsfna.org and clicking on Publications.
If you need additional support, many free resources are available, some of which are listed below. Others are listed on the mental health resources page on the LHSFNA’s website.
- See if you have access to a Member Assistance Program (MAP) through your employer or your health and welfare fund.
- The Crisis Textline serves those in any type of crisis with free 24/7 support. Text HOME to 741741 in the U.S.
- The Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration’s Disaster Distress Helpline is a toll-free hotline that provides 24/7 crisis counseling for residents in the U.S. and its territories. Call 800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 (Spanish-speakers should text Hablanos to 66746).
- Sponsored by the United Way, www.211.org connects people to local human services. Dial 211 to be routed to specialists who can refer or link you directly to a local agency or organization that can help.
Janet Lubman Rathner