Helping others best way to fight stress following tragedy

Posted: Sunday, September 16, 2001

Like everyone else in the country, Kenai Peninsula residents are still reeling from Tuesday's tragedy.

Although we live thousands of miles from the site of the terrorist attacks, the scenes from the disaster are as close as our television sets. Horrific image after horrific image have been replayed countless times. We are hungry for information, yet, our hearts grow heavier with each new revelation.

The disaster is made worse because most Americans never thought such a thing possible. We have no frame of reference for such an event. Regardless of whether we lost loved ones Tuesday, our lives have been changed. Everyone in the country has suffered a loss of security and we face an uncertain future.

On the surface, our lives on the peninsula may be proceeding normally, but most everyone feels as if they are walking around in a daze.

How we are feeling -- or not feeling -- may surprise us.

It shouldn't. According to information from the American Red Cross: "Anyone who watches the disaster coverage can become what is called a 'secondary victim' and can suffer emotional and physical problems."

Among those emotional symptoms of traumatic stress people may exhibit: anger, fear, sadness, depression, denial, detachment, guilt, moodiness and irritability.

The stress may show up in such physical ways as cold and flu-like symptoms, stomach aches, headaches, fatigue, rashes, increased allergies, rapid heart rate and elevated blood pressure.

The stress may reveal itself in an inability to concentrate, difficulty making decisions, poor work -- or school -- performance, an inability to sleep, a change in eating habits, a desire to be alone more than usual or a desire not to be alone at all, an increase in alcohol consumption or substance abuse and a change in speech patterns.

The experts say it is normal for traumatic events to lead to less intimacy and more family discord, including domestic violence. Children may respond to the situation by clinging, acting out or reverting to behaviors such as thumb sucking, bed wetting and being afraid of the dark.

People may have some or none of the reactions to stress. They may experience them now, never or sometime down the road.

What can we do to help ourselves -- and each other -- through this time?

First, we should be alert that we are experiencing traumatic stress and those around us are experiencing traumatic stress. These are normal reactions to an abnormal situation.

Second, we should take good care of ourselves. Physical exercise can help relieve stress. We should eat healthful foods, whether we want to or not.

Third, we should reach out to each other. There may be no better time than this to practice random acts of kindness.

Fourth, we should return to our routines. There's comfort in the familiar.

Fifth, we should talk with others about how we are feeling, we should listen to others about how they are feeling, and we should seek help if we feel like we cannot manage with our normal support system.

Sixth, we should channel our anger and our fear and our feelings of helplessness into action. Helping others may be our best medicine.

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