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A group of independent counselors serving Kingwood and Houston
Specializing in Gottman MethodTM Couples and Marriage Counseling

Posts Tagged ‘acute stress’

Hurricane Harvey . . . the good, the bad and the ugly about acute stress

Monday, September 11th, 2017

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

Hurricane Harvey . . . . survivor guilt and numbness

Saturday, September 9th, 2017

Some people may be wondering why they are experiencing “survivor guilt”. Some are wondering why they are feeling nothing. The short answer is both are common and expected responses after natural disasters. We are in a period of acute stress. We can’t really call it PTSD yet because not enough time has elapsed for that diagnosis. Both Acute Stress and PTSD are forms of anxiety and grief, but the more serious PTSD means you are stuck in the process. If you are feeling nothing, it is your way of coping, at least for the moment, with the tragedy we are experiencing. Sometimes when things feel too big, we shut it down and section it off as a means of protecting ourselves from the pain. It hasn’t sunk in yet. The numbness is actually somewhat productive in the early stages. Not being weighed down by heavy feelings helps us to kick it into high gear to clean out flooded houses, contact insurance companies, deal with FEMA, etc. The same is true after the death of a loved one. There is a lot to do in planning a funeral, and it is not until we are done with the busy-ness and into the daily routine of our new unwanted reality that we begin to feel. This numbness is why therapists’ offices are dead right now. The phone isn’t ringing like you might think. In about a month or two we will be full to capacity with people who are starting feel the pain and are moving through the stages of grief. Instead of feeling nothing, many of you have the unwanted feeling of survival guilt or “why was I spared when so many others are suffering?”. It is also a normal reaction and part of the acute stress process. There are different types of survivor guilt that have varying intensity and duration. For example, if you were the only person to survive a plane crash, your guilt would be much more intense. Or you would have a lot more to work through if you were somehow responsible for the tragedy, like being the driver of a car that crashed and all your passengers died. But neither of these situations apply to this natural disaster. What people are experiencing now is feeling guilty for feeling relieved that it is not them. You might be worried that you have some deficiency in your character for feeling this way. Some people also struggle with WHY they were spared. Why did the water stop right at my doorstep when my neighbor’s house was destroyed? Try to understand that you are capable of feeling two feelings at the same time. You can feel relief as well as compassion for your struggling neighbor. It’s not an either/or situation. And it is normal to not want to feel the pain we see others experiencing. We all have felt pain and loss because they are universal feelings, and we don’t want others to feel that way, so we feel guilty. I don’t know that we ever understand the WHY of such tragedies, but I do know that to cope it helps to dive in and helping others alleviate their pain. It helps us to channel our guilt into something positive. If you are struggling with survivor guilt please understand that it is a normal part of the acute stress process, but if it becomes too intense or persists too long you may need to seek professional help. When the emotional storm from Harvey hits, local therapists will be available to help, and please note that some services are free of charge. For more information, please check out the resources on our website.


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