The phone in my Westport counseling office started ringing the day after Hurricane Sandy. The storm and the massive damage left in its wake had pushed stress levels, already high from daily stressors, to a breaking point for many people. With the devastation to so many homes, power that would not be restored for days on end, and children unexpectedly home for a week and a half, many people felt like crying, “Uncle!” As a Fairfield resident and mother of three, I was not immune to the stress that was so negatively affecting my patients.
Stress has become all-too-familiar for many of us, although it may manifest itself differently in each of us: Some fear about the future, have trouble concentrating, have become irritable, depressed, or tearful. Many of my patients are having difficulty sleeping or are even experiencing physical symptoms like headaches, stomach aches, and fatigue. This is all normal following a major crisis, like Superstorm Sandy. But just because it’s normal doesn’t mean we have to live with it. There are several things you can do to help yourself to feel better.
Step One: Have a good cry.
If you feel like crying, give in to it and have a good cry. I promise you will feel better afterward. That’s because crying actually releases endorphins, which are linked to serotonin and dopamine, that have been found to physically alleviate stress, decrease anxiety, and help you to feel calmer.
Step Two: Call a Friend.
Talk. Vent. Share your frustrations and fears. Often, just giving voice to our feelings can help to vent them, helping us to feel calmer and more in control. Remember, children also feel stress, so encourage them to express their feelings and listen. Drawing and pretend play are two great opportunities to help kids express their feelings. Just getting it “out” can help them greatly.
Step Three: Do Something You Enjoy.
Read a book, go to the movies, have lunch with a friend, go get a pedicure. What you do isn’t important. But taking care of yourself is. So find some time to do something that will give you pleasure and make you feel like your old self for a while.
Step Four: Take Care of Yourself.
Everything is easier when you have had enough sleep. So get enough sleep, try to eat well, and make time to exercise. When you are feeling well physically, you will find you are less affected by stresses, and are better able to help your loved ones as well. If you are having trouble sleeping, try getting exercise in the morning, and turn off the television at least an hour before bed. Remember that caffeine and alcohol can both interfere with sleep patterns, making it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep.
Step Five: Step Away From the TV
The constant replaying on the news of events we find stressful, whether it’s the storm aftermath, politics, or anything else, just isn’t good for us—or for our kids. We don’t get any new information, and our fears and anxiety continue to climb as we stay stuck in the middle of a stressful situation. So take a walk, soak in the tub, or enjoy a quiet candlelight dinner with the family (even if you eat it on paper plates) and create a calm environment that will let you and those you love unwind.
Step Six: Do Something to Help
Donate food or clothing. Give blood. Volunteer your time to Sandy victims or to any cause you find near to your heart. Taking action will help you to feel more in control. And that feels good.
Sara Victor is a licensed clinical social worker specializing in family and individual counseling, infertility issues, parenting and chronic illness. She can be reached for more information or for appointments at firstname.lastname@example.org