After Sandy

This article originally appeared in The Hudson Reporter on November 11, 2012.

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Although a hurricane may only last a few hours, its effects can last for days, months and even years. There are some Do’s and Don’ts for how to best cope with the devastation and traumatic experiences that many of us felt throughout the past few weeks in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

Do return to normal routines ASAP. This means getting back to what life was like pre-Sandy – parents going to work, kids going to school and attending recreational activities.

Don’t become permissive with kids when it comes to household responsibilities, behavior, homework and bedtimes. Children rely on structure to cope with difficult experiences. Allowing them to skip chores and get away with behaviors that would normally be cause for consequence will hinder them from moving forward.

Do reduce TV/news/media exposure. Too much of anything is not a good thing – including news after a disaster. Ongoing exposure to traumatic images causes adults and children to re-experience the event and increases their distress level. Children can develop problems with sleeping, increased nightmares, and new fears that were not present before. Watch the news for the information you need, and then turn it off.

Don’t allow children to control the TV remote as they will likely end up on a station that is covering the disaster.

Do stay healthy. Stress can affect people both physically and mentally. After a traumatic event, many people report having a diminished appetite and disrupted sleep, making it even harder to cope with stress. Keep healthy snacks in the house and maintain an exercise routine. If you didn’t have one before Sandy, it’s never too late to start!

If you are a parent, Don’t talk to your children about your anxiety, stress and fears related to the hurricane. Children will internalize your feelings and be less likely to speak up if they are upset or scared.

Do encourage your kids use comfort toys to help them with difficulty sleeping, such as their favorite stuffed animal or a nightlight.

Do help others. Becoming involved with a community effort for recovery makes people feel good about themselves and it’s also positive way for children to cope with their feelings.

After a traumatic experience like Hurricane Sandy, it would be natural to have symptoms such as increased anxiety, intense fear and disrupted sleep. For children, they may become increasingly irritable; have distressing nightmares or flashbacks, and difficulty concentrating. If the symptoms last more than a few weeks, call a mental health counselor for crisis/trauma counseling to help resolve the issues so you and your family can move forward.

Talia Filippelli, LCSW is the owner of Starr Psychotherapy in Hoboken. To learn more about therapeutic services for your family and how to cope with the emotional aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, call Talia at 201-218-7431 for your free consultation.