Nov. 2, 2012 It's more than chaos. It's more than uncertainty. The upheaval brought about by a natural disaster the likes of Hurricane Sandy forces us to reorganize how we see the world.
"We lose our mental mind map," says Henri Roca, MD, medical director of Greenwich Hospital's Integrative Medicine Program in Greenwich, Connecticut. "The challenge is that everything is different, from the places we usually go, the routes we drive, the colleagues and friends we see. We don't realize how much we depend on the things we consider solid and foundational," said Dr. Roca. "We lose our foundation, sometimes literally. Totally capable individuals under other circumstances don't know what to do," added Roca.
Stress can manifest itself in feelings of listlessness, helplessness or indecisiveness, or as fear and anxiety, or with changes in sleep or appetite. "People tend to retreat to their houses, when the way out of the chaos and stress is exactly the opposite," said Dr. Roca, a New Orleans native who helped individuals cope with Hurricane Katrina stress before he relocated to Connecticut.
To keep yourself strong and positive as much as possible when facing the adversity of natural disaster and upheaval, Dr. Roca suggests:
1. Pay attention to nutrition, and eat a diet high in protein. Stay away from sweets and carbohydrates, especially simple carbs from white flour. You need protein to make neurotransmitters, the chemicals that help give you a sense of resilience.
2. Focus on exercise, even if it's just taking a walk as a family. Keep moving. Exercise helps to reduce depression. So does sunlight.
3. Seek other people. Talk to neighbors. Visit friends and family. Ask for help if you need it.
4. Re-prioritize. The things you need will come with time. The things you want will have to wait.
5. Find ways to relax. Gentle music, meditation, deep breathing or quiet time reading can provide a well-needed break.
6. Allow for your time to be flexible. Under the circumstances, you just can't be in a hurry. You have to let go of perfection. You do the best that you can do.
With clocks going back the weekend after Hurricane Sandy, days will be shorter. Even one less hour of sunlight each day can trigger feelings of depression in susceptible people. This can make a stressful situation worse. If you have electricity in your home or office, use full spectrum lighting. With a physician's guidance, make sure you are getting enough Vitamin D, which means 2,000 IU for many adults. Other nutritional considerations may include SAMe and St. John's Wort, but be aware that interactions with other medications may occur if taken without proper medical supervision.
"The focus should be on maintaining nutrition, maintaining exercise, paying attention to the effect of light and the interaction with others, and then using some targeted supplements, remembering that during times of great stress nobody gets extra points for perfection," said Dr. Roca.
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