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Posttraumatic stress, holidays arrive together
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Families feeling the impact of Katrina-related stress today may find it hard to believe their feelings and anxieties could get worse weeks or months down the road as the holiday seasons arrive.
Patsilu Reeves, family life education specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said some survivors of Hurricane Katrina may not show symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder in the first months after the storm.
"But in the months to come, people may notice ongoing or increasing problems with sleeping, flashbacks, moodiness or other emotional issues," she said. "Unfortunately, a few months down the road will put families right in the middle of the holiday season."
Reeves said symptoms of posttraumatic stress may include avoiding people or places that bring back bad memories; feeling numb, overwhelmed, irritable, angry or easily startled; being unable to remember aspects of the storm or trauma related to it; or being unable to sleep or unable to get out of bed.
Seek professional help when multiple symptoms persist for an extended period of time.
"Some people experiencing posttraumatic stress may be depressed, which can lead to an over-reliance on medications or abuse of alcohol or drugs to make them feel better," Reeves said. "Unfortunately, those quick-fixes can lead to worse problems of abuse and addiction."
Reeves encouraged people to re-establish the relationships that compose their individual communities. Re-establish or make new connections within a social network.
"Seek out support groups. If they are hard to find, help establish them in churches, community centers or within other organizations," Reeves said. "Find people to talk to about traumatic experiences and feelings related to them. Avoid people who are not helpful or increase stressful or depressing feelings."
Reeves said turning attention away from personal needs may be difficult, but service to others in need is one way to break through depression.
"Most of the time, we can find others in worse shape than we are. By helping them, we will feel better about our situation and our future potential," she said.
Reeves has been a strong advocate of journaling to express feelings even before Katrina hit on Aug. 29. Writing can be a tool for sorting through feelings of loss, grief, anger and fear.
"For people who lost family treasures such as photos, papers, books and videos, recording memories in a journal can help reconstruct some of those experiences in a tangible form," she said. "The journal will help today with sorting through the feelings as well as in the years to come when some of the memories fade."
Louise Davis, Extension child and family development specialist, said journal-type activities are also effective for helping young children process traumatic events. Open-ended questions can prompt children to talk, draw or write about their experiences.
"Use questions about the event like where they were, who was with them, what they saw and how it sounded," Davis said. "Some questions to ask about the aftermath may include how they feel now and what makes them feel better."
Children should not be forced to write, talk or draw about traumatic experiences. Simply present these methods as options for expressing themselves.
"Daily routines provide security for children in the midst of other uncertainties. Give them age- and skill-appropriate chores to help them feel like they are a part of the recovery process," Davis said. "They need adults to be anchors for them. Reassure them of your presence with hugs and personal attention. Avoid overexposing them to adult concerns like finances, shelter and death."
As with adults experiencing symptoms of posttraumatic stress, consider professional counseling for children if problems continue over several months or worsen with time.
Contact: Dr. Patsilu Reeves, (662) 325-1801