How Trauma Can Affect Sexual Intimacy

Recovering from trauma means learning to process and gain control over a number of symptoms related to avoidance, hyperarousal, and memories the experience.  However, there are also several other after effects that trauma survivors often must struggle though.  These can include isolation from friends and family, feelings of anger and/or helplessness, difficulty having healthy relationships, and the decrease of actual and interest in physical and emotional intimacy.   This blog will focus on the decrease in intimacy that can follow a traumatic experience.  If these issues relating to sexual intimacy are not appropriately addressed, relationships can be damaged and even end.

For the individual who experienced trauma, there can be an intense emotional shift that makes the idea of physical and/or emotional intimacy unappealing.  Participating in your own intense trauma-focused therapy will be important to help you move though this difficulty, as well as the other symptoms mentioned above.  In addition to working on yourself, make sure to always communicate with your partner in a very honest fashion.  Oftentimes, partners can blame themselves for the shift you are feeling towards sexual intimacy.  Clarifying for them your own struggles will be important for the quality of your relationship.  Communication will also help you and your partner continue to feel connected in a different type of way and hopefully prevent any level of distancing that could otherwise develop between the two of you.

For the partner of the trauma survivor, remember that healing takes time and that there is hope.  This shift in your relationship will not be permanent.  Support is the biggest thing you can offer to your partner.  Your partner must heal in their own way, and although you want to help, you cannot ‘fix it’ for them.  Listening to your partner, empathizing, and reassuring them are some of the most powerful things you can offer.  Remember to not take your partner’s current state personally and do not assume that you are hindering your partner’s progress by wanting to be involved in this process.  Allowing your partner the time they need, while ensuring that your needs and wants are communicated is essential.  Your own level of self-care is just as important during this time as it is for your partner.  Don’t forget about yourself as they go through this difficult process.  Your own therapy might also be useful to help remind yourself of that. 

Remember that there is hope, for recovering from trauma and regaining a strong and meaningful sexual relationship.  Trauma recovery is difficult, but there was something that drew you and your partner together.  It will just take meaningful effort by both parties to work through and heal from the pain of trauma.

Authored by:  Kaitlan Gibbons, PsyD

What About Grief Can Be Traumatic?

We’ve all experienced a level of grief at some point in our lives.  Unfortunately, some of us more than others and some of us more intensely than others.  10 percent of grievers can develop a level of traumatic grief, which is a more prolonged and complicated version of appropriate grief.  Grief is a healthy and normal part of life, even though it can be very painful in the moment.  However, when grief lasts more than six months and becomes more consuming, you may be experiencing traumatic grief.

Traumatic grief includes continued feelings of yearning for the dead and an anger over the sense of the loss.  Often traumatic grief can stem from the sudden and unpredicted death of someone very close to you.  When this occurs, the mourner can feel like they were not prepared for the death of their loved one and become angry for the event occurring.  A consistent yearning can develop in the sense that the surviving members do not move on from the person’s death in an appropriate time.  Keeping bedrooms and belongings as they were prior to the person’s death, memorializing their property or image, and daily reviewing photos or videos of the deceased can occur to maintain traumatic grief.  This consistent yearning for and holding onto the deceased person can generate a feeling of remaining stuck for the surviving members as well.  It can begin to seem like time is standing still or not progressing appropriately.  Often the surviving members who experience traumatic grief can put their own lives on hold during the time period that they continue to mourn the lost individual.

Guilt can be another prominent and intense symptom experienced by the survivor experiencing traumatic grief.  Guilt can become a rabbit hole that our minds can easily fall into all day, every day.  That is, unless we intentionally stop it from doing so.  People who experience a level of traumatic grief can frequently have thoughts that they “should have done more or something differently,” “I deserved this more than they did,” or “things would have turned out differently if only…”.  Survivor’s guilt can also be a very significant struggle.  The problem with guilt stemming out of traumatic grief is that nothing will change because of this thought process.  Individuals who mentally go down these rabbit holes will never feel better about the situation and it obviously won’t bring the individual back.  Some survivors believe that they deserve to suffer with this level of guilt because of what has happened to the deceased person and therefore, in a sense, allow this process to continue. 

So what can be done?  Because the truth is that no one deserves to suffer with traumatic grief.  It might be useful to ask yourself if the deceased loved one would want you to be suffering in this fashion.  Likely the answer would be no and that they would want you to treat these symptoms and continue to live a meaningful life.  In regards to treatment, it can be difficult for antidepressant medications to relieve symptoms of traumatic grief.  Exposure therapy and/or cognitive behavioral therapy are more productive and can achieve more long-lasting results.  The goal of treatment is to encourage people to confront all of the symptoms identified in this blog and resolve any lingering attachment to the deceased.  This does not mean that therapy will help you to forget your loved one, which should never be the goal.  The goal of treatment is to address and confront the self-destructive components of traumatic grief and honor the memory of your loved one in a healthy and appropriate way.  Reframing the way you remember the deceased person can allow you to then remember the relationship you had with them in a more positive way.  Doing so can assist you to move on with your own life, in the way they would likely have wanted you to.

Authored by:  Kaitlan Gibbons, PsyD

Going After What You Deserve

The most important thing in this blog is the idea that you need to start going after what you deserve now.  Right now.  Starting in this very moment.  If you don’t start now, there will always be another reason or excuse to put off treating yourself the way you should or allowing yourself to have and experience what you deserve.  Even if you don’t think or feel that this is appropriate because it’s not the right time, you haven’t earned it yet, or for any other reason, you still need to start right now.  If you couldn’t justify using the same rational you’ve been using against yourself to a best friend, partner, or sibling, why is it ok to use it against yourself?

Often times we have a list of contingencies that we need to accomplish before we can be happy or confident in ourselves.  My questions would then be, why are those contingencies there, who are they meant to serve, what purpose do they serve, and are they something that I will ever be able to realistically accomplish or do they have the potential to go on forever?  The reality is that these contingencies are really only there to make you feel unintentionally badly about yourself, are more for others than they are for you, and were originally meant to motivate you, but are likely very negative and probably hurtful in nature and will perhaps never be accomplished to the point that you think they should be.  Essentially you are probably putting yourself into a never-ending negative cycle that will never end in the way you most want it to. 

The problem with this cycle is that your energy is being wasted.  Your time, thoughts, emotions, and efforts are being sucked into this negative feedback loop that does not offer any productive outcome.  The result will be the same as it was the time before and the time before that.  So what do to instead?  Step back and acknowledge, maybe even write out, what your own negative feedback loop is.  You might have to do this more than once.  The reality is that this negative cycle will only ever continue wasting energy.  The idea is to not necessarily think differently, but to first do different and your thoughts and emotions will eventually catch up.  Start with some action.  Make a list of what is holding you back from obtaining what you deserve.  What have you been putting off?  What would you do differently to accomplished your goal?  How would you live your life at that point and how would you feel about yourself?  The way to make this happen is to just start.  Start small and simple.  If something seems too overwhelming, then break it down into smaller steps to accomplish that do not feel as challenging.  For enhancing your level of motivation, check out the Depression blog post for August of 2016… there’s a common thread here!

One of the most important things in this process is to recognize that fear, avoidance, and negative self-talk won’t and don’t actually start any change process.  In fact, they only dig you deeper into your hole.  The same is true with avoidance and giving up.  The only way to start climbing out of your hole is to start climbing.  Stand up and start with an action.  The things you deserve will still be there with or without this level of effort, so isn’t it more useful and a better use of your energy to just go after it?  Ask yourself, would I rather spend my energy digging myself into a deeper hole or starting to climb out of it?  I would say that everyone deserves to be out of their own hole and live life on stable ground.  And even though it might be difficult for you to believe that about yourself right now, I would still challenge you to just act like you believe it.  Who knows, one day you might and there’s only one way to find out!

Authored by:  Kaitlan Gibbons, PsyD

Emotionally Recovering from Trauma – Self-Blame

A closer look at self-blame and its relationship to a traumatic experience is the third and final installment of this miniseries.  We have looked at the three most challenging emotions that are presented when recovering from a trauma.  Although logically it does not make sense to many people, including those who have survived a traumatic experience, self-blame can be one of the more difficult emotions to overcome.  This post will look at the underlying factors that follow a traumatic experience that perpetuate the feeling of self-blame.

Often times, self-blame develops out of a power and control dynamic.  Blaming oneself for any negative event experienced in one’s life is a way to feel like you are able to maintain a level of control.  Follow the logic.  If you believe that you are to blame for any part of your trauma, then you can feel like you might have control over preventing a similarly negative event from happening to you again in the future.  However, the reality is that you had no responsibility in the trauma that occurred and this focus of trying to prevent another trauma in the future is unrealistic.  There is no way that we can fully control the actions of others and trying to do so is only uselessly expending our effort and energy.  Self-blame causes additional damage by increasing stress, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and harsh self-criticism. 

Self-blame following a trauma will likely fit into one of two categories described below, character and/or behavioral self-blame. 

  • Character self-blame refers to essentially attacking yourself by focusing blame on personal characteristics that had previously been constant in your self-concept.  This blame then becomes global, applied to all areas of your life, and stable, maintaining for a long period of time.  This negative event, or repeated negative events, may encourage you to believe that there is something wrong with you or something within you that causes these events happen.  A sense of helplessness may develop as a response to believing that your traumatic experience was a punishment or inevitable.  However, it is important to remember that these were the actions of someone else and your self-worth is completely unrelated to the decisions of another person.
     
  • Behavioral self-blame is focusing on the belief that certain behaviors you engaged in brought about your trauma.  One may actually feel like they have more control if they focus on behavioral self-blame, as mentioned above.  The foundation of this self-blame is the belief of making a change to your behavior will lead to preventing a similar event from occurring in the future.  Often times these behavior changes become significant efforts to avoid any level of vulnerability.  This will also eventually damage current and healthy relationships.  Regret and anger can develop out of this type of self-blame.  The level of energy expended will become exhausting and the amount of time spent working to protect yourself will be wasted.  Although remembering that no one can be 100% safe 100% of the time may be hard and scary, it is the reality for everyone in the world.  Working to accept this will free you to get back that time and energy spent on unrealistic over-protection. 

This craving for a level of mastery over your traumatic experience will, unfortunately, only allow the self-blame to continue.  Letting go of the self-blame is a very difficult task.  Participating in trauma-specific therapy will assist you in being able to address feelings of shame, guilt, and self-blame in a healthy way, allowing you to enjoy your life more fully.

Authored by:  Kaitlan Gibbons, PsyD

Emotionally Recovering from Trauma - Guilt

Guilt is defined as the “unpleasant feelings of regret stemming from the belief that you could or should have done something differently.”  When referencing trauma-related guilt, this feeling is typically related to the idea that you could or should have done something differently in the moment of your trauma.  This can also reference the immediate time before or after that moment, which would have changed the outcome of the event.  Of course, the reality in these situations is that we have no control over our ability to change our past.  There is also the reality that we do not know if our shift in behavior would have made any change to the outcome of our trauma, be that change good, bad, or indifferent.

Trauma-related guilt has been associated with shame, which is why shame is a part of this three-part series, depression, social anxiety, low self-esteem, significantly decreased quality of life, and even thoughts of suicide.   Guilt is also a concept that not only negatively affects our emotional state, but our cognitive state as well.  Emotionally, one can experience secondary feelings of sorrow, regret, and disappointment in themselves.  Cognitively, a person can begin to believe that they have violated a moral standard and are responsible for that violation or the events that led up to it.   This allows the guilt to focus on your own actions, or lack of action, causing the emotion to live on for a longer time period.  Theory suggests that these other symptoms are maintained by trauma-related guilt in the sense that guilt-related thoughts follow trauma memories, which can occur at any time because an individual has no control over when they surface.  When these memories occur, they are followed by a negative or painful emotional response.  This process obviously encourages an aversive response to the initial trauma memory and a want to avoid that memory in the future, explaining why the idea of ‘it will get better with time’ does not work.   As a result, guilt is often found in people who are experiencing a variety of trauma symptoms, as well as diagnoses of PTSD or Major Depression. 

Cognitive – Behavioral Therapy is most useful when confronting the emotions and thoughts that can stem from guilt.  Guilt and shame are highly intertwined with each other, which only makes it that much more challenging to conquer them both concurrently.  However, with the help of a specially trained psychologist, both can be effectively addressed and overcome.  Challenging guilt, in both a cognitive and emotional way, focuses on the reality of the situation.  In therapy it will be necessary to address questions like:

  1. Who owns the actual blame for the trauma?
  2. Is it fair to use the information you have now against yourself?
  3. What was the reality of the situation then and the reasons for the choices you made in the moment?
  4. What self-expectations would be appropriate, given the context and details of the trauma that was happening then, not using the hindsight you have now?

Addressing these questions in therapy with a trained provider is important because recovery will likely necessitate an outside perceptive the first few times these questions are addressed.   Being honest with one’s self and one’s own experiences is a very challenging task.  Typically this is because there are a number of additional thoughts and emotions that accompany the original guilt.  Although the process can be a difficult one, therapy and support can be very effective in helping you to return to having a life worth living, a life you deserve to live.

Authored by:  Kaitlan Gibbons, PsyD

Emotionally Recovering From Trauma – Shame

We all know that some of the most difficult things in life to deal with can be our own emotions.  Whether it’s coping with anxiety, depression, sadness, anger, fear, or countless other emotions, facing our feelings can be an overwhelming task.   Typically the time we need to face our emotions and manage them the most, are the times we least want to.  The only way to overcome our discomfort is to work through it.  Emotional avoidance may work in the short-term, but in the long-term, our discomfort will still be there.  When working to recover from a traumatic experience, there are three emotions that can be particularly challenging, shame, guilt, and self-blame.  Over the course of the next three months, this blog will be a three part series that focuses on each of these emotions.  The first blog will focus on the role of shame in the trauma recovery process.

Shame can be an immense roadblock when overcoming trauma because it can cause a person to remain stuck in a place of suffering, impairing your ability to move forward.  Shame encourages emotions associated with the original trauma to live on.  Pain, if you think about it, can easily be perpetuated by shame.  Secondarily, shame dissolves any self-esteem or self-confidence, making a person feel worthless, flawed, and damaged. However, shame can also appear to work in the opposite sense, meaning that to everyone else it can produce good qualities.  People trying to work through significant amounts of shame can become perfectionists, overly concerned with their physical appearance, or extremely hard workers in a variety of areas.  To most others, these traits can seem helpful and propel an individual to doing good things.  For those experiencing this shame, these behaviors are a way to distract that can feel overwhelming and injurious.  Often this is because these goals are typically impossible to achieve.  

Often, people who survive a traumatic experience are unsure as to where the shame originally came from.  As humans, we like to believe that we are largely in control of and capable enough to address what happens to us in our lives.  When a traumatic event happens to us that causes a negative or harmful outcome, shame can develop as a way to cope with what we believe we did wrong and how we can do better next time to prevent similar future events.  The problem with this thought process is that we have no control in a traumatic situation and there was likely nothing we could have done differently to change the outcome.  Shame allows us to live in this twilight zone were we believe we could change the course of our history by altering a few small details of an event.  The word ‘should’ becomes a very powerful one and encourages us to believe that we can protect ourselves in the future, never feeling that powerless again.  However, the reality is that there is nothing that can change our past.  Having more compassion and understanding for ourselves and the traumatic situation we experienced can be a realistic and honest way to heal from shame.  Therapy can be a very productive place to begin developing this level of compassion and understanding.  Following a trauma, the challenge to step outside of your own emotional experience and recognize that there are other ways to cope can seem overwhelming.  Therapy is a safe place to allow an objective person to begin to offer that compassion and understanding. 

Authored by:  Kaitlan Gibbons, PsyD

Can You Recover From PTSD?

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a specific set of symptoms that some people will develop after experiencing a traumatic event.  These events can range from interpersonal abuse, to a natural disaster, to a car accident.  However, that does not mean that everyone who experiences a traumatic event is automatically considered to have PTSD.   Some individuals will experience a number of PTSD-like symptoms, but not meet the quota sufficient for a full diagnosis.  This does not mean that the suffering those people experience is any less real.  It also does not mean that they are any more or less likely to recover from their symptoms than a person diagnosed with PTSD. 

A topic of debate has been how permanent is a diagnosis of PTSD?  What is true is that the memory of the traumatic experience will never leave you, just like the memory of your high school graduation or a favorite childhood birthday will not leave you.  What makes the memory of the traumatic event seem more powerful are the intense negative emotions attached to it.  The answer to the question of permanency is that the symptoms experienced following a trauma do not have to be long-lasting, nor do the strong emotions attached to the traumatic memory. 

Trying as hard as possible to forget the memory of what happened or deny the emotional responses will likely not work.  PTSD is a diagnosis based on fear and anxiety, both of which can be treated very effectively with structured therapy.  Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) and Prolonged Exposure (PE) are two very specific evidence-based treatments that have been proven to significantly decrease symptoms related to PTSD.  Both therapies involve a level of exposure to the traumatic memory reducing the power it has over your thoughts and emotions.  CPT helps to address other thoughts that continue to keep you stuck in a place of suffering.  PE works to expose you to situations, people, places, and things you have been avoiding that are actually safe enough.  Both therapies are meant to help your brain and body learn that these people, places, things, and thoughts do not need to be avoided.  People who have had traumatic experiences may start to notice that it takes significant amounts of energy to engage in daily avoidance.  These treatments can help you return to a level of functioning and well-being that you experienced prior to your traumatic event(s). 

While these treatments are not easy and can feel painful in the moment, the important thing to remember is they will work.  You will experience improvement in your symptoms if you are willing to fully commit to and engage in the therapy.  Working through traumatic memories can be difficult, but there is a certainty that you will come out healthier on the other side.  What you deserve is a level of wellness and a life that is what you want it to be, not a life that your symptoms dictate.

Authored by:  Kaitlan Gibbons, PsyD

Recovering from One of America's Greatest Natural Disasters: Hurricane Katrina, 10 Years Later

August 29, 2015 was the 10 year anniversary of when Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast of the United States.  Most of us remember the main area of devastation being the city of New Orleans.  We might remember hearing that the levees are breaking, hundreds of people are dying by the hour, and the aftermath that occurred in the Super Dome.  As a result of these traumatic experiences, less than half of the Lower 9th Ward’s original 14,000 residents have returned since Katrina.  This is also the case for a number of people who never returned to their homes on other areas of the Gulf Coast.

Some decided not to return because they knew the place they would be returning to would never be the same again.  And this is very true.  Traumatic experiences change us and our history.  They become a part of our story that can never be removed.  However, just like the city of New Orleans itself, we can continue to make progress towards recovery, following traumatic experiences, and return to a state of thriving within in our lives. 

Progress and change are how trauma recovery becomes possible.  Katrina survivor and local of New Orleans, Artis Turner has struggled through his own process of coping with the hurricane’s aftermath.  His outlook on the progress of the city is that, “If you keep living long enough, you’ll see anything eventually turn into something else.”  Choosing to continuously live in the present, Turner is assisting his own recovery process by not living in the past. 

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is an evidence-based treatment that utilizes acceptance and mindfulness to enact behavior change and enhance commitment to move forward in one’s life.    ACT, which was developed over the course of the 1980s, helps one to identify their value system and then work towards consistently living that value system.  This process does not include eliminating or suppressing negative emotions and events that have occurred in our lives.  Instead, ACT focuses on accepting that these events have happened and that they will continue to be a part of our history.  ACT also helps one to live in the present, without trying to change or control the past or worry constantly about the future.  It appears that a number of Katrina survivors, without knowing it, have enacted various ACT principles to recover.   ACT teaches that you can constantly observe and experience different parts of yourself, in spite of whatever positive, negative, or neutral feelings, thoughts, or memories you might be having at any given moment. 

The survivors of Katrina and the city of New Orleans itself can teach us all a lot about trauma recovery.  The city was recently identified by the Rockefeller Foundation as one of the country’s 100 Resilient Cities.  Resiliency uses a number of ACT practices.  Focusing on your values, living in the present, and accepting past events as part of our ever-changing history are all effective ways for humans to return to a healthy level of functioning post-trauma.  Resiliency and community support offers a sense of hope that has been apparent in the 10 years since Hurricane Katrina.  The progress New Orleans and the Gulf Coast has made during that time continues to demonstrate that trauma recovery is a process where growth and change are ever present.

Authored by:  Kaitlan Gibbons, PsyD

The Pathway to Feeling Empowered

Recovering from trauma is challenging because of the steps necessary to begin to feel comfortable with yourself and in the world again.  Re-establishing a sense of personal power and control will be essential during your own recovery.  However, it is important to remember that self-empowerment is a process and everyone’s path will be different.  This blog will discuss a variety of tools that will enhance your own level of self-empowerment and act as guidelines to move you along the change process.

Two of the most important tools are recognition and awareness.  Really noticing what external factors you put your energy toward and allow to affect your life can take away significant levels of personal power.  Once you are able to step back and recognize how much power you are actually giving away, as well as recognize the abilities and skills that you do have, you can begin to feel more empowered.  Awareness is the second tool that takes recognition a little further.  Since you cannot change something you are not aware of, self-awareness helps you to acknowledge and accept the level of power you have been giving away.  The amazing part of this awareness is realizing that you can just as easily begin to take your power back whenever you decide to begin doing so.

Responsibility is another important tool, both accepting your own appropriate level of responsibility and also giving the appropriate responsibilities to those who deserve it.  This will help to release you from a level of guilt and/or self-blame that you might be experiencing.  Letting go of the past and letting go of worrying about the future are the next two tools that will be useful in improving self-empowerment.  Empowerment is only able to be experienced in the present moment.  Focusing on the past, holding grudges, and continuing to live in your symptoms continue to keep you stuck.  Choosing to release yourself from the past will help you to feel stronger and be able to move forward instead of standing still.  Releasing your worry about the future is also important because we will never have full control over what happens to us in the future.  Being able to accept the fact that we can only influence our future, by adding up our present moments, will not only feel empowering, but also freeing.

Trust is a major skill that all people seem to continuously be working on in life.  Learning to trust yourself and your own decisions can be very powerful.  Remembering that failure is a gray-scale, failure is not black or white, will also empower you to feel that you can be in control of and alter your own process.  This ability to trust yourself can improve the mindset you have about yourself overall.  Remembering that you have control over yourself and your own mind can help you move forward in your recovery. Make sure to share your greatness with others, because you are great.  This allows you to become more active in your own self-empowerment by involving yourself in a positive way with others.  Withholding these gifts will only continue to keep you stuck.

Being willing to focus on your own truth and what you believe to be important in your own life is necessary.  Our society often sees the word ‘selfish’ as a dirty word, but the truth is that self-empowerment contains a level of selfishness.  Learning to put ourselves first and taking care of our own needs, instead of always putting others before ourselves, can be very self-empowering.  Healthy selfishness is finding space, time, and energy for yourself in a way that is not at the cost of another person.  Lastly, forgiving yourself and finding a level of inner peace, as opposed to continuing to punish ourselves, is important for finding self-empowerment.  If we cannot have compassion for ourselves, it will be difficult to believe that we can care for ourselves in these other ways. 

These skills take significant practice and they will be very challenging from time to time.   However, continuing to practice and live by these skills are what will enhance and maintain a level of self-empowerment over the course of a lifetime.  Remember, you have never lost your power, you may just have forgotten some of these skills given various traumas you’ve experienced.  The amazing thing is that you have to ability to return to these habits and improve your quality of life as a result.

Authored by:  Kaitlan Gibbons, PsyD

How a Tragedy from Across the Country Can Affect Us

Recently in America there have been a number of tragedies that have generated significant media attention, and rightly so.  From September 11th in 2001 to the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, which has recently re-surfaced in the news, our citizens have been very conscious of the harm being done on our own soil.  These tragedies frequently appear to be citizen attacking citizen.  When this happens, it seems to intensify the emotional experience that is felt, for a number of reasons.  Such examples include Ferguson, Missouri, the death of Trayvon Martin, this spring’s riots in Baltimore, and most recently, the mass murder in Charleston, South Carolina.

Even when these tragedies occur hundreds of miles away from where we might be living or in a place that we have never been, the emotional experience can still be powerful.  We are hurt and saddened by the things that certain people are willing to do to other people.  The question then becomes, how can we all manage, in the healthiest way possible, to heal from these events that just appear to continue?  Research suggests that consistent exposure to mass media coverage, when events like this occur, can actually cause acute stress reactions in the viewer.   Some of these symptoms can include intrusive thoughts about the event, feeling on edge, feeling emotionally detached or indifferent, and avoiding things or people that remind you of the event that occurred.

Research completed at the University of California – Irvine, assessed the effects of media exposure of the Boston Marathon bombing immediately following the event.  The study noted that six or more hours of fairly constant exposure to a variety of media sources, such as TV, radio, print news, online news, and social media, will have negative effects on the viewer.   Researchers found that indirect exposure through the media was actually a stronger predictor of experiencing an acute stress reaction than the direct exposure of actually being in Boston that day.  Although this may seem a little hard to believe, the point that you cannot get away from is the idea that media exposure can be just as, if not more damaging, than actually being at the scene of a traumatic event.  Even given this information and how watching this material makes us feel overall, we still may find it difficult to turn away.  We may feel like it is our duty to educate ourselves and remain up-to-date on the current situation.  Some may even feel like giving an appropriate amount of time to watching such events demonstrates a level of empathy and support for the individuals who are suffering.  However, for our own mental health, we may need to consider what and how much media coverage we need to engage in.

You may want to take a personal assessment when watching such news programming and notice if you are feeling especially anxious or stressed.  If you are having trouble turning off the TV or stopping yourself from researching such an event on the internet you may need to limit yourself.  This can become especially troublesome if you are reducing other recreational activities or your sleep is being negatively influenced.  If you notice any of these symptoms, it would be beneficial to consider the amount of media coverage you are watching and if it is helpful for you.  Other strategies to utilize include limiting watching or researching this material before bedtime or speaking to people frequently about the event, particularly if it is in an effort to gain additional information.   A general curiosity and concern for our fellow countrymen is a healthy and common feeling; however, when taken to the extreme, it can start to negatively influence our own lives, encouraging the tragedy to live on.

 

Authored By:  Kaitlan Gibbons, PsyD

When Floods Strike

Recovering from any natural disaster is challenging, both emotionally and physically.  The recent Memorial Day weekend heavy rains that damaged central and north Texas have left many with destroyed property and heavy hearts.  There are multiple points that flood victims need to address following this type of natural disaster, such as completing insurance paperwork and restoring their homes to a normal state.  However, less instruction is given on emotionally how to cope with the devastation and loss that can result from flood damage.

Dealing with the stress that comes from natural disasters can be extremely overwhelming.   Asking for help can be one of the most important and effective steps a person can take after experiencing a natural disaster.  When you start to feel like you are experiencing more stress than you can handle, it may be time to reach out for help.   Such symptoms might be:  difficulty communicating with other, trouble sleeping, a low threshold for frustration, a limited attention span, headaches or stomach aches, cold-like symptoms, feelings of hopelessness, overwhelming guilt and self-doubt, feelings of grief or loss, and a fear of being alone. 

For those survivors of the recent Texas floods, tapping into one’s natural strengths to deal with the  crisis could be the most powerful tool at your disposal.   Taking a minute to remember the times you have made it through other difficult life circumstances can be useful in reminding yourself how much personal strength and natural resiliency you do have.   Relationships and maintaining connections can also be a significant source of strength during these times.  Reaching out to friends, family members, or your own community can support not only your physical, but emotional health as well.  A good supportive network, even if it consists mostly of volunteer organizations, is necessary.

It is also important to remember that this is a trying time and that your emotions will roller-coaster on a fairly regular basis.  Given the understandable stress of the overall situation, it is important to have realistic expectations for your own progression in restoring your life to its pre-flood status.  Compassion for yourself and your family is an important component of this, remembering that you have suffered a loss and that these emotions are natural responses.

Making a list of tasks that need to be accomplished and prioritizing that list can also assist in making flood recovery seem less overwhelming.  This will also help you to keep a pulse on you reactions to stress during this strenuous situation.  During times of stress, it is easier for us to neglect our overall health by cheating our sleep schedules, adding more junk food to our diet, and not engaging in self-care.  Maintaining your regular routine as much as feasible during this time will assist in regaining a sense of normalcy.

It is also important to reach out to your children following a flood.  Maintaining their daily routine as much as necessary will give your children as much of a sense of security as it will give to you.  Restricting their viewing of the news or other media that references the flood will also assist them in feeling more confident with your family’s recovery.   You can help your children to feel more at ease if they are informed of future safety plans.  Educating your children on emergency reaction procedures for possible future floods and then practicing those procedures can help you and your family feel more empowered should a similar tragedy happen to occur in the future. 

Natural disasters elicit a number of emotions from fear to sadness to anger.  These emotions can make recovery from any disaster particularly difficult.  Recovering from a flood can be especially challenging given the amount of time it can take to restore damaged property.  Having confidence in your own strengths and abilities during this process can go a long way.  Focusing your energies on the components you can control and supporting yourself in healthy ways during this period can go a long way during such demanding times.


Authored by:  Kaitlan Gibbons, PsyD