Friday, September 13, 2013

Colorado Floods: What To Do If You Aren't Handling The Stress Well

Many parts of northern Colorado have received about half of their annual precipitation in the last 48 hours. There has been widespread flooding, damage to houses and cars, and the constant threat of evacuation. Phones are buzzing with flash flood warnings, and it is hard to miss seeing the devastation, either in person or on the news.

In addition to staying physically safe, it is important to protect yourself emotionally. This is an amazingly stressful time for residents, first responders, news reporters, and public officials. Symptoms of acute depression and anxiety are common. Here are a few warning signs:

1. Sadness and tearfulness
2. A strong feeling that you need to get up and go somewhere immediately (the "flight" response)
3. Anger
4. Lack of ability to focus or think clearly (all you can think about is the disaster)
5. Excessive worry
6. Racing heart, sweating, shaking, cold hands and feet
7. A need to know where your loved ones are at all times
8. Jumpiness and hyperarousal (for example, you jump and feel a rush of anxiety every time you hear a siren)
9. Nightmares about the disaster
10. An inability to do anything (almost like you are "frozen in place")
11. A change in eating or sleeping habits (you can't fall asleep, you lose your appetite, or vice versa)

These symptoms are fairly normal reactions to stressful situations. For most people, the feelings of depression and anxiety go away quickly. For a smaller number of people, the symptoms linger. For some people, it feels like the depression or anxiety will never abate, and disorders such as Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Agoraphobia (a fear of leaving the house), and Major Depressive Disorder can develop.

If you feel completely overwhelmed, or you are worried that your depression or anxiety is getting out of control, there is help. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a disaster distress hotline. Here is how you get in contact with them:

PHONE: 1-800-985-5990
TEXT: "TalkWithUs" or "Hablanos" to 66746
SUICIDE LIFELINE: 1-800-273-8255

SAMHSA also has an excellent web page with a lot of detail about anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, and panic reactions. I won't summarize it in this post, but I highly recommend you click on the following link if you are in distress. It is a great resource. It includes information about how to make it through the immediate crisis and how to deal with your emotions when the crisis is over:

Good luck, and stay safe, physically and emotionally.

Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.


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