The Fordham Psychological Association hosted a symposium on Thursday, Sept. 13, to counsel faculty, students and friends on ways to deal with the trauma associated with this week’s terrorists attacks. Psychology professor Anie Kalayjian told the audience that there are several phases survivors go through when faced with disaster. Initially, she said, there is fear and anxiety. Those feelings give way to the action of helping others, to joy at having survived, to anger and frustration and eventually recovery. Several emotions accompany these phases, she said. Disasters tend to make people lose their appetite, have nightmares, withdraw and have problems making decisions, among other things. Children also manifest signs of psychological distress.
They experience separation anxiety, refuse to sleep or be left alone, may be hyperactive or engage in regressive behavior, such as thumb sucking. Adolescents may withdraw, have increased anger and aggression, inability to concentrate, increased daydreaming and nightmares, according to Kalayjian. To help stimulate the recovery process, it is important to: Continue your pre-disaster routine as much as possible.
Go to work or school and do the usual household chores. These activities can give you a sense of control during times of uncertainty. Stay with friends, family, neighbors and co-workers. They serve as a support system and should be utilized. Don’t hide your feelings. Talk, cry and share feelings of grief, sadness and helplessness. It is normal to have such feelings and healthy to get them out. Also encourage your children to do the same.
Reach out to your spiritual support system whether it be a church, mosque, temple or some other structure. Kalayjian’s research has shown that spiritual support has helped survivors. Know your limits. Take time to relax and rest. Avoid self-medication. Drugs and alcohol may seem to remove stress temporarily, but in the long-term they can create additional problems. Even caffeine and nicotine can have a negative effect on your ability to control sources of anxiety in your life. Find a positive lesson that you’ve learned through this catastrophic experience. Every experience and disaster can have a positive meaning which is individually unique.
Take time to cry and grieve, then discover the lesson. Find and express love. Caring and loving produces positive feelings in all of us and helps us cope with the worst situations.