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Trauma From Witnessing Natural Disasters

By February 7, 2019July 30th, 2020Blog

Natural disasters are traumatic, horrific events that can completely change the course of someone’s life. Hurricanes, earthquakes, floods and tsunamis come unexpectedly, completely overwhelming those who have suffered through one. While the number of deaths associated with natural disasters may be decreasing, the emotional toll of one remains high. Natural disasters have the power to completely wipe out homes, jobs, and sometimes even family members or close friends, resulting in emotional damage that can completely alter ones mind.

It is completely normal to mourn what was lost in the disaster, as only time can heal pain. However, it is unreasonable to expect to make it through the mourning process alone. If you are suffering through symptoms of trauma, there is help available to get you through these troubling times.

Immediately after a disaster has occurred, people will typically feel disoriented and stunned. Once this feeling of shock begins to wear off, people can experience a variety of behaviors and thoughts, including:

  • Changes to thoughts and behavior patterns. It is not uncommon to have flashbacks of the event that can come at any given moment. This can make it increasingly more difficult to make decisions and focus. Additionally, sleep and eating patterns can be disrupted. Some people may overeat and oversleep, while others experience a loss of sleep and loss of appetite.
  • Intense or unpredictable feelings. Many people will be anxious, irritable, nervous, overwhelmed or uncharacteristically sad.
  • Strained relationships. Possible changes to thoughts and behaviors can result in people becoming withdrawn and isolated, leading them to disengage with friends and family, creating tension and strain.
  • Stressed-related physical symptoms. Nausea, headaches, and chest pain can begin due to increased stress and anxiety.
  • Sensitivity to environmental factor Things like loud noises such as sirens and burning smells can trigger memories from the disaster resulting in an increase in anxiety.


What is Trauma?

 Trauma is defined as an emotional, psychological response to an event or experience that is deeply disturbing or distressing.  According to the American Psychological Association, the most common symptoms of trauma include:

  • Feelings become intense and sometimes are unpredictable. Irritability, mood swings, anxiety and depression are coming manifestations of this.
  • Flashbacks: repeated and vivid memories of the event that lead to physical reactions such as rapid heartbeat or sweating
  • Confusion or difficulty making decisions
  • Sleeping or eating issues
  • Fear that the emotional event will be repeated
  • A change in interpersonal relationship skills, such as an increase in conflict or a more withdrawn and avoidant personality
  • Physical symptoms such as headaches, nausea and chest pain


Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD can develop after a very stressful, frightening or distressing event, or after a prolonged traumatic experience, such as a natural disaster. In fact, approximately 25% of people who suffer through a natural disaster will develop PTSD symptoms. While not everyone who experiences a natural disaster suffers from PTSD, those who do are by no means weak; PTSD is not a sign of weakness.

There are three categories of symptoms associated with PTSD which include:

  • Avoiding reminders of the trauma including places, people, thoughts or other activities that can be associated with the event.
  • Reliving the event through recurring nightmares or other intrusive images that occur randomly any time. Typically reliving the event will result in extreme emotional or physical reactions such as chills, heart palpitations or panic when faced with reminders of the event.
  • Being on guard or hyper-aroused at times, including feeling sudden anger or irritation having difficulty sleeping or a lack of concentration and being overly alert and easily startled.

PTSD when left untreated can lead to a variety of serious symptoms, including:

  • Loneliness: Because PTSD can potentially make a person very difficult to be around and is often undiagnosed. Individuals with the disease may end up isolated and alone.
  • Anger management issues: For some people, the moments of recurring stress and anxiety lead to outbursts of anger or rage. This can result in child or spousal abuse or even public violence.
  • Severe depression: Serious depression is always a risk with PTSD. Many sufferers may demonstrate suicidal thoughts or actions while in the midst of a PTSD episode.

Generally, survivors of natural disasters are recommended to seek professional guidance if they find themselves unable to regain control of their lives or if they continue to suffer from PTSD symptoms for more than a month.


Early Intervention and Treatment is Important

Intervene as soon as possible on behalf of someone suffering from a natural disaster. Uncharacteristic behavior becomes increasingly destructive. Over time, buried and suppressed memories become more and more powerful.

Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART) is an innovative, evidence-based therapy for PTSD, anxiety, depression, stress and similar mental health issues. Initially, the therapy was primarily used to help veterans suffering from PTSD. One of the major advantages is the speed at which ART is able to bring relief. Generally, one to five sessions are needed, not months or years of expensive psychiatric treatment.

Accelerated Resolution Therapy works by reprogramming the traumatic memories that are preventing people from enjoying the full life they deserve. The techniques work equally well on anyone suffering from trauma, regardless of the type of trauma experienced. Trauma, at the end of the day, is still trauma.

Regardless of how bad things may be, there is always hope and always someone available to help you through difficult times. Contact ART International to learn more or find a therapist near you.