Mental health professionals are anticipating a rise in stress-related problems in the coming months as emotions that may have been dormant begin to fully emerge.
‘There’s a lot of speculation that the post-traumatic reactions won’t start turning up until sometime in the New Year,’ said Kathryn Dinspel-Powell, a therapist with the Department of Substance Abuse Services.
‘People are so consumed right now with practical needs like housing. That’s very time-consuming. When some of that subsides, the reality of what’s happened will settle in and they’ll have time to actually pay attention to how they’re feeling. Right now, that’s not necessarily a priority. The focus is on getting things done.’
Dinspel-Powell, clinical supervisor of outpatient services, said the holiday season has also been occupying people’s time.
‘People are getting swept up in the holiday rush. It’s another distraction.’
Dr. Clement Von Kirchenheim, a psychologist at George Town Hospital, said the country is now entering what’s called the disillusionment phase after a disaster – a time when the realities of losses and changes caused by the hurricane must be faced.
‘People are noticing that their hopes and expectations that everything would be normal by now still haven’t come true.’
It’s a period when overwhelming feelings of frustration, anxiety, grief, disillusionment, mourning and depression may fully emerge.
Private counsellor Terry Delaney said there’s a potential for big let down in January since many people have set a time frame based around the New Year. It can cause major stress when expectations fall short.
‘The normal tendency is to want everything like it was Sept. 1 and have it finished by tomorrow. We’ve got to just say, it’s going to take a long time.’
He said any kind of let down right now – including the post-holiday blues – could intensify or trigger depression.
Dr. Von Kirchenheim says there are ways to minimize stress and its related problems.
Proper nutrition, regular exercise and rest are critical. Seeking support from friends and family or from your church can also be highly therapeutic. ‘It’s important that people don’t isolate themselves.’
He also advises people to re-establish hobbies and routines enjoyed before the storm.
‘One of the things that I recommend to people is to try and do the things they really do have control over. For example, for people that are into sporting activities, make sure they do whatever they can to get exercise. For those who have a commitment and a relationship with their God and church, make sure they attend church.’
Dr. Von Kirchenheim said it’s also helpful to try to maintain a positive outlook.
‘Don’t just focus on what’s wrong but also on what has gone right. It’s not trying to be overly optimistic but making sure you find a balance.’
He said stress is a normal reaction to abnormal events but if it’s impairing daily functioning, it’s a good idea to seek professional help. Signs of stress include irritability, anger, deteriorating relationships with friends or colleagues, depression, feelings of hopelessness, thoughts of death and dying, trouble concentrating, relentless worrying drinking too much, withdrawing, forgetfulness and flashbacks. If symptoms last a month or more, counselling can be beneficial.
‘It’s normal to be upset, to have some sense of anxiety and distress, but when it becomes really harmful in some way, that’s a sign.’