Lincoln – As the one-year anniversary of 2019’s devastating floods approaches, it’s important to remember that some Nebraskans may experience an increase in distressing emotions – but that’s normal.
The anniversary of a disaster or tragic event can activate thoughts and renew feelings of the actual event, leading to fear, anxiety, irritability, sleep changes, and sadness in disaster survivors. Certain smells or sounds can also trigger emotional distress, taking people right back to the event, or cause them to fear that it’s about to happen again.
“Around the anniversary of a traumatic event, people are likely to remember events clearly and feel emotions far more intensely than usual,” said Sheri Dawson, director of the Division of Behavioral Health at the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.
Some people start anticipating the anniversary days, weeks, or even months before it occurs, she noted. “It’s normal to have fears and concerns about how that day may make you feel,” said Dawson. Reliving the experience and associated feelings is a very natural part of the healing process, and there is no one right way to heal. Try not to compare your reactions to those of others. Each person is different. Individuals can make progress in working through the grieving and recovery process”
After the floods hit last year, a group of agencies, including DHHS, the University of Nebraska’s Public Policy Center and the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency, formed the Nebraska Strong Recovery Project, which provides crisis counseling assistance and creates public service announcements and educational materials in English and Spanish. For more information, visit http://www.disastermh.
“Our message from the Division of Behavioral Health and the Nebraska Strong Recovery Project is for the survivors to know that they are not alone,” said Mikayla Johnson, disaster behavioral health coordinator and administrator for the Division of Behavioral Health. ”Our crisis counselors are still available and in the communities that were affected by the 2019 flood. Disaster survivors needing assistance or wanting to talk to crisis counselors can reach out to the Regional Behavioral Health Authorities in their area or the Rural Response Hotline at 1-800-464-0258.”
The following tips can help you or a loved one cope with renewed stress as an anniversary approaches or when trigger events suddenly occur. Advice from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) includes:
- Be aware that special days may be difficult. It’s common for some stress and other emotional reactions to happen around the anniversary of an event. Simply recognizing that your feelings are normal and part of the recovery process will help. Dealing with some of your losses and the new realities you’re facing after a disaster can be challenging. Try not to be too hard on yourself.
- Be gentle with yourself. Show yourself the same kindness and patience you’d give to others during this time. Allow yourself to feel angry or sad and recognize that these emotions are natural.
- Participate in activities that you enjoy. This may be different, depending on the individual. Some people like to reflect in solitude while others may prefer spending time with family and friends for support. Some of these activities may include: singing, prayer, meditation, attending a spiritual service, going to the movies, or just getting together with loved ones to share a meal. Avoid using drugs or alcohol to help you cope.
- Talk about your losses if you need to. If you want to talk about your losses since the disaster, you can. If you want to talk about the future, you can do that, too. Be sure to share your thoughts and feelings with someone you trust. That can be a friend or family member or a health care professional. Honor the positive change and progress that has been made. Identify where it fits in your heart, minds, and lives.
- Draw on your faith/spirituality. For many, faith and other spiritual beliefs are a source of strength and comfort every day, and most especially during difficult times. Reach out to your faith adviser, spiritual community, or anyone that you feel comfortable talking with about your beliefs to support and console you.
- Use your support system and accept kindness and help from others. Support from family and friends is essential to healing. It’s often difficult for people to accept help because they don’t want to be a burden to others, or don’t want to appear weak. Allow the people in your community and your life to show their care and concern.
- Help others. For some people, volunteering is a healthy way to heal and they get a great deal of satisfaction from helping others. Some activities can be as simple as donating food, clothing, and other items can serve as a way to give back to others experiencing challenges.
It’s okay to ask for help. Need to talk to someone? In addition to the Rural Response Hotline and Nebraska’s Regional Behavioral Health Authorities, the Nebraska Family Helpline, (888) 866-8660, and SAMHSA’s Disaster Distress Helpline, (800) 985-5990, can provide assistance.