Northwest Colorado providers offer tips for coping with trauma, disasters
March 8, 2018
CRAIG — In the aftermath of horrific events, many people are left with a sense of vulnerability, and the perceived lack of safety can be keenly felt by the most impressionable — children.
"We share underlying circumstances – vulnerability in daily life and a growing awareness that our world is not as safe as we once believed," said Sharon Raggio, president and CEO of Mind Springs Health and West Springs Hospital.
It can be difficult to know how to cope with the trauma that follows exposure to disasters.
"The most important thing is for people to recognize trauma, how it happens and what it is," said Steve Walls, licensed professional counselor and owner of A & S Counseling.
Walls, who has additional expertise in the treatment of trauma, said it occurs when an event activates the fight-or-flight response.
"The brain takes a sensory snapshot of the moment and will reactivate off of those sensory cues," he said.
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For example, if there were a particular song on the radio during a car crash, that same song may trigger the fight-or-flight response, resulting in post-traumatic stress.
"It's normal for people to have panic attacks after any kind of trauma. What is interesting to me is what triggers those panic attacks. It's not something you get control over. It's the animal, instinctual part of our brain that also controls breathing, heart rate, body temperature and enables us to do tasks very quickly," Walls said.
For people who have been traumatized, news of disasters can trigger them.
However, disasters can also create stress for people who have never personally experienced a traumatic event, including children.
"They are exposed to what they hear in the media and they hear friends and family talk," Raggio said.
She offers the following tips and strategies to help cope with a crisis.
• Be kind to yourself, and keep healthy habits, such as eating well and getting enough sleep.
• Practice positive psychology — the art of positivity — and develop resiliency skills.
• Talk with children in an age-appropriate way, and keep home a safe place.
• Watch for signs of stress, fear or anxiety, and encourage children to put their feelings into words by talking about them or journaling.
People struggling with mental health issues are also vulnerable.
"I would hate to have the association in the public mind that people with mental illness are also violent," Raggio said.
She points to research that shows people with mental illness are more often likely to be the victims of crime, rather than the perpetrators.
"We know that people with mental illness are no more likely to be violent than people without an illness," Raggio said.
Encouraging people to engage in treatment is likely more impactful than blaming or shaming.
"We know that treatment works," she said.
If symptoms of trauma — mood instability, panic attacks, nightmares — last more than six months, it may be time to seek help.
"Talking can help, but if you want to do away with it, you need to find someone who is an expert in dealing with trauma," Walls said.
For more information, visit mindspringshealth.org/coping-with-trauma-disasters or ascounsel.com/home.html
Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.