We have been dealing with the effects of the flood for two weeks and feelings have been all over the place. We are experiencing the good, the bad and the ugly of Acute Stress. Let’s talk about “the bad” first. In previous posts, I talked about symptoms such as anger, numbing, guilt, irritability and sadness. But the list of symptoms for acute stress is much longer, and I know personally I have experienced some of them, such as impaired memory and concentration, fatigue and insomnia. Others who were more directly affected (being rescued, loss of job, loss of home, etc.) may be experiencing other symptoms, such as confusion, intrusive thoughts/memories, helplessness, relational conflict, social withdrawal, impaired work or school performance, loss of pleasure, nightmares and a spacey feeling, which we call dissociation. These are expected symptoms, but most people are resilient, recovering within 6-16 months. And now for “the ugly” . . . More severe reactions may occur in some individuals, such as severe re-experiencing (flashbacks) of the rising flood waters or being rescued, anxiety and panic attacks, depression, severe dissociation (not feeling connected to one’s own body, amnesia), extreme avoidance or problematic substance use. If you or someone you know is experiencing severe symptoms, it is time to seek professional help as a diagnosis of PTSD may be on the horizon. So, what are the “good” things that can potentially arise from enduring this trauma? Highly stressful situations are often the impetus for our persona growth. Think of your own history and times of personal growth and you will realize that it is often tied to a painful event, like a divorce, illness or job loss. The idea is not new. Nietzsche’s famous line is “That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger”. Natural disasters can create what is called “post-traumatic growth”. Now I am not saying that losing everything in flood is something to embrace. It is not. But, some individuals will be profoundly changed in a positive way because of it. Post-traumatic growth is not universal, but it is also not unusual. After Hurricane Katrina, the study of post-traumatic growth took off as many people reported improvements in their life. It’s hard to say what that growth will be, but growth tends to occur in five basic areas: new opportunities, closer relationships or enhanced empathy, sense of one’s own strength, greater appreciation for life and a significant change or deepening in spiritual beliefs. Flood victims are currently feeling great suffering, yet over time some may experience growth that they cannot imagine right now. According to research, it appears that those who have not endured repeated trauma in their lifetime are more likely to experience this type of growth. As a community, I think we are experiencing a form of post-traumatic growth, and I hope it sticks. Social support and connection to our community have skyrocketed. We have abandoned the notion that political, racial, religious and socio-economic differences separate us because we are all having a common experience. We are mired in sadness about our losses, yet we have never felt so much fellowship in our community. Without this natural disaster, we would not have experienced this. The flood may be the beginning of the story, but it is not the end. There is hope. And as always, I want to close my post by reminding you that local therapists are committed to helping those who are struggling. Please see our ever-expanding Resource and Referral list on our website.

Mary Beth George, MEd, LPC