Guest post by Dr. Raymond Hanbury, a clinical psychologist in New Jersey
Before Hurricane Sandy, we talked about preparing. Since it hit, the talk has been about recovery. But in between those two phases, there is generally another phase. That phase is waiting–waiting to hopefully return to your home and begin clean up.
This means that you may be “staying in place” or remaining home, or you may be living at a shelter with hundreds of other people. At times, this period of staying at home or in a shelter without some of the basic amenities can lead to “cabin fever.”
Each situation brings its own frustrations and challenges. In a shelter, privacy does not exist, but noise does. Limited activities are available. Many people there have medical concerns. They facilities are often short staffed. However, most people demonstrate resiliency and they move to the recovery phase. This happens because of the basic goodness in people.
Being at home has its issues as well, such as no power, heat, running water; damage to the home; gasoline shortage; possible curfews; just to name a few of the challenges.
Both, as mentioned above, can essentially create a case of cabin fever while waiting to enter into the recovery phase. It’s important to take care of yourself and those around you as you wait, even with limited resources.
Here are suggestions that may prove helpful when you start to get restless:
- Walking. Whether around the shelter grounds, if possible, or around your neighborhood if you are at home. Be safe and watch out for loose debris, fallen electrical lines and other hazards.
- Talk to others. Conversations with neighbors or others in a shelter can be a distraction from thinking of oneself and the tragedy. You may discover there is some way that you may be able to help out someone around you.
- Games and activities. Have games and activities for children. You’ll keep yourself occupied as well. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network has a great list of activities that don’t require any supplies (Link opens as a PDF.)
- Think positive. The situation is time limited. It may take longer than expected to return to your home or settle in elsewhere and begin the recovery process. But the waiting phase will end.
- Be patient. Both with yourself and with others. Practicing gratefulness and gratitude is one way to keep your patience when the waiting seems to last too long.
- Use prior coping methods. What has worked for you in the past to get through a difficult situation? Some people like reading, playing music, journaling or meditation.
Disasters can and do create devastation, lifestyle changes, sadness, anger and anxiety. But you must remember to also be thankful and hopeful for the chance to build a positive future. We are resilient people and we all have strengths and with the true neighbor-helping-neighbor spirit, we can overcome the obstacles we sometimes face in life.
Raymond Hanbury, PhD, ABPP, is a clinical psychologist who is specially trained as a disaster mental health responder and trains other professionals in disaster response. His home and community has been affected by Superstorm Sandy. He drafted this post by candlelight and is grateful that the power to his home returned this morning.
Photos by the U.S. Army and Save the Children USA (via Flickr)