Put Your Own Mask On First

September 26, 2008

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Post-Hurricane Stress.  I see and hear it in myself, and in the voices and faces of people I talk with and people I see on TV.  Everyone in Southeast Texas has some of this stress, to some degree or another.  Each of us deals with it in proportion to the extent that Hurricane Ike disrupted our lives and the extent of our own coping skills and support network.

I was curious enough about the phenomenon that I consulted Google, which quickly led me to tips offered by LSU that have been reprinted and quoted widely in Texas and Louisiana publications this month.

– Be patient and establish what’s really important. Realize that everyone’s point of view on what is top priority may be different from yours.

– Don’t expect things to return to normal immediately. Accept that changes in your life, both physically and emotionally, will be here for a while.

– Recognize that hurricane victims have suffered losses and that it’s normal for them to express disbelief, anxiety, anger, sadness and depression.

– Understand that the emotions of hurricane victims can swing dramatically, and moods could change without warning.

– Don’t fail to notice your children’s feelings. They need to feel they can rely on you for the extra love, attention and support necessary to get through this disaster. Comfort them, making sure they realize they are not responsible for the problems you face.

– Keep your family diet as nourishing as possible.

– To build a sense of capability, focus on the big picture rather than little details and problems.

– Talk with family, friends and clergy. A compassionate network is essential to your recovery.

– Resist the temptation to revert to personal bad habits while under stress.

There’s one thing I need to add, based on the little spiel we always hear at the beginning of any airplane flight, which I paraphrase: “If the cabin depressurizes and oxygen masks deploy, put on your own mask first.  Then assist your children with their masks.”

In other words, take care of yourselves first.  Look after your personal safety, comfort, and emotional and physical stability.  If there is damage to your home or you have tangible, financial, or personal losses, there will be a time to deal with these.  Forget the broken house for the moment.  Forget the mold.  Forget wondering when and how much the insurance or the government will provide, unless there are resources you need from them immediately for your own personal well-being.  In that case, identify what you need from whom, and go get it.

The essential first step is to strengthen yourself so that you can face the other challenges that await you.  All else will follow from there.

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