Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Surviving the stress of a disaster

Laura Santacrose
Today’s guest blog on the importance of preparing both mentally and physically for disasters is by Laura Santacrose, MPH, the 2013-2014 student fellow for APHA’s Maternal and Child Health Section.

It is important to recognize that people can have emotional reactions leading up to a disaster, during a disaster and after a disaster strikes. Having a plan in place for a disaster can help lower the stress of an already stressful situation. In addition to having a plan for the family and an emergency preparedness kit, it is important to prepare for the emotional response you may experience as a result of a disaster.

While reactions to disaster will vary from person to person, it is common to experience feelings of shock and disbelief, and to experience difficulty sleeping and concentrating. People can even experience feelings of helplessness. Some people may experience changes in eating habits and use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs. People often find it helpful to talk about their experience with friends and family, write their thoughts and feelings in a journal, or seek professional help and support. These are all healthy coping strategies that can help people deal with stressful situations like disasters.

Disasters can be particularly stressful for pregnant women and caregivers to children. The emotional and mental stress of experiencing a disaster can have a physical effect on a pregnant mother’s body, which can lead to poor nutrition and preterm complications. The stress of a disaster may increase the risk of preterm labor, low birth weight and even miscarriage. Therefore, it is important that all pregnant women know the signs and symptoms of preterm labor. Learn more about the signs of preterm labor from the Get Ready campaign and the March of Dimes.

Additionally, infants are completely dependent on their caregivers to protect them during a disaster. Therefore, caregivers need to care for their own physical and mental health in order to care for their infant effectively. An added benefit of breastfeeding your child is that by keeping baby close to the mother, it creates a soothing effect for both mom and baby, which can help to relieve some of the emotional stress felt after a disaster.

Check out the Get Ready campaign’s Mental Health and Disasters fact sheet for more information about how to prepare for the emotional toll a disaster may have on you or your loved ones.

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