Guest Column: Take care of yourself after having a traumatic experience

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Dozens of local residents experienced traumatic situations related to the deadly storm that hit Avalon last week.
Whether the experience was related to witnessing a death or injury to another person, being injured yourself, having a boat destroyed (which in many cases was also a home or business), fearing for a loved one in danger, risking your own life or health to help others, or any number of other crisis situations that occurred on the night of Wednesday, Dec. 30,  many Island residents may be experiencing the continuing effects of having suffered an acute trauma.

Dozens of local residents experienced traumatic situations related to the deadly storm that hit Avalon last week.
Whether the experience was related to witnessing a death or injury to another person, being injured yourself, having a boat destroyed (which in many cases was also a home or business), fearing for a loved one in danger, risking your own life or health to help others, or any number of other crisis situations that occurred on the night of Wednesday, Dec. 30,  many Island residents may be experiencing the continuing effects of having suffered an acute trauma.
It is important to know that after experiencing a traumatic event, it can be normal for people to have a variety of reactions, including: depression, nightmares, increased startle reactions, muscle tension, sleep disturbance, fatigue, feeling easily overwhelmed, difficulty concentrating, difficulty making decisions, disbelief, moodiness, irritability, feeling “numb” and/or apathetic, feelings of guilt, extreme anxiety or worry, fear, anger, or withdrawal.
These are normal stress-related symptoms that will typically resolve without professional help within a month.
For your mental health it is helpful to take care of yourself during the aftermath of a crisis situation.

Tips for taking care of yourself
You can take care of yourself by doing the following:  exercise, get adequate sleep, drink plenty of water, eat nutritious and easy-to digest foods, allow yourself to cry and to express feelings, use your social support system (don’t spend too much time alone), accept help from others, notice positives/ don’t blame yourself or others, limit your decision-making to just today’s needs, engage in calming activities (listen to music, get a massage, meditate and/or pray, take deep breaths, take a hot bath or shower, visualize a peaceful scene, etc.), avoid alcohol or other drugs (they may delay recovery).

Children also experience stress from trauma
If you are the parent of a child who has experienced a trauma, it is important to know that children may experience many of the same symptoms as adults.
They may also have trouble in school, or regress to an earlier stage of development (such as when a child who has been fully toilet-trained starts wetting the bed).

Tips for parents
Parents can help children through the effects of a traumatic situation by letting them know you are willing to talk and really listening to them, answering questions simply and honestly, reassuring your child of his/her safety and security, letting your child know he/ she is not to blame for the situation, maintaining normal daily routines as much as possible, and remember that your own trauma reactions will affect your child.
For both adults and children it can be helpful to limit exposure to disturbing television, newspaper and/or Facebook reports about the incident, which can re-trigger stress reactions.

Where to go for help
It is recommended to seek the help of a counselor for yourself or your child if symptoms last longer than a month, if you are unable to eat or sleep for an extended period, or if you are experiencing any suicidal thoughts.
 For information on mental health services available in Avalon and/or on the mainland please call the Catalina Island Medical Center’s social services department at 310-510-0520.
For more information on dealing with disaster-related traumas, please see the U.S. Dept. of Veteran’s Affairs website at: http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/types/disasters/index.asp.

Dawn Sampson is a licensed clinical social worker, and the Director of Social Services at the Catalina Island Medical Center.

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