After crises like hurricanes Katrina and Rita, your life will never be the same. Many of us survived this natural disaster, but much of what we care about may be lost.
"After a disaster you will definitely go through the stages of grief," said LSU AgCenter family life professor Dr. Diane D. Sasser. Those stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
"Understanding what you are feeling can help you begin to cope," Sasser said, adding, "Giving into the stages of grief and going through them are keys to getting past the disaster and moving forward.
You may not go through each stage only once, and you may not go through them in the order specified. For instance, you might move from anger to bargaining, then back again, before you move on to depression and finally acceptance. Sasser says it is important to remember that not all people move through the stages with the same intensity of emotions or at the same rate.
These differences in how and when individuals experience each stage can add stress to relationships. For example, a wife who is in the anger stage may be very impatient with a husband who is still in denial: "I can't understand why he's still got his head in the sand." He, on the other hand, may be wondering, "Why is she so angry when there's nothing to be angry about?"
The family life expert explains the various stages.
Denial. "No, not me, it can't be true." This is a typical reaction when a person faces a loss. This stage functions as a buffer after the unexpected happens. It allows you to collect yourself and, in time, to find a way to cope.
Anger. "Why me?" When the first stage of denial passes, it is likely to be replaced by anger, rage, envy and resentment. God is often a target for anger, especially in natural disasters. You may also resent people around you who didn't suffer as much loss as you did.
Bargaining. "Yes, me, but...." Once you have gotten the anger under control, you may enter the bargaining stage. You may promise God that you'll be good or that you'll do something in exchange for what you need. Bargaining can be a positive way to deal with stress. Whether you bargain with God, with yourself or with your family, it provides comfort for things you cannot control. It allows you to "frame" the crisis so you can manage it. Bargaining may help you cope with feelings of sadness without experiencing deep depression. Good bargaining skills allow people to see the bright side of even the most difficult situation.
Depression. "There is no hope." A crisis entails loss, which is followed by sadness. If you are absorbed by the sadness, you can become depressed. Signs of depression include changes in usual eating or sleeping patterns, constant moodiness or irritability, lack of energy and feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.
Acceptance. "It's all right now." Once the preceding stages have been completely worked through, you will finally be able to accept what has happened, and you may even be stronger than you were before the disaster occurred.
People who survive crises well have common characteristics:
• They have people who stand by them, supported them and give them a sense of hope.
• They understand the magnitude of what they have lost.
• They learn to forgive themselves for their mistakes and for surviving.
• They learn to accept their own good qualities.
• They have given themselves a reason to live.
"After a disaster there is so much to do and so many people to take care of, you can easily minimize the importance of taking care of yourself," Sasser said, cautioning, "Remember, it takes physical and emotional energy to rebuild. If you don't take care of yourself first - if you become physically ill or emotionally unbalanced - you will cause more problems than you'll fix."
Do things to assure your physical, mental and emotional well-being. When you are emotionally drained, you need a healthy body more than ever. Good health habits can make your emotional recovery faster and easier.
• Get a good night's sleep; don't take daytime naps.
• Eat healthy foods, avoid alcohol, caffeine and junk foods.
• Exercise even if it is just taking a walk every day.
Just as bodies need nourishment, minds need rejuvenating. This is why it is important to treat yourself to activities you enjoy!
• Do fun things with your family.
• Once a day do something by yourself that you find relaxing.
• Spend time with friends.
• Find people you can lean on.
"Finding support is crucial to coping with loss," Sasser pointed out, noting, "Often the people who can help you most are your friends and family."
But no matter how close these people are to you, they aren't mind readers. Before they can help, you have to be willing to explain how you feel and what you need.
Do you know someone who is having trouble coping? Many people who have trouble coping with loss need help, but don't reach out for it. In these cases you, as a friend, neighbor or family member, may want to be assertive in freely giving your help. Perhaps you could:
• Show you care, by words and actions. Small kind deeds and sincere affection or concern mean a lot. A friendly arm around a shoulder, a few words of support or an invitation to talk may be appreciated more than you know.
• Help the person accept help. People who have a hard time working through a loss may brush off offers of assistance and persist in the fantasy that everything is fine. Try to make it easy for them to accept help. Be assertive. Ask, "When can I come over and help out?" or say, "I'll be over at 3 o'clock to help you paint the living room."
• Help with everyday tasks. When a person is feeling disoriented and troubled, just keeping up with the routine demands of life can be too much. Maybe you could cook dinner, do the dishes, care for a child, mow the lawn, cook a meal, clean the house or do the shopping. Don't forget children need attention, too. You may want to take them to the zoo, for a bike ride, a walk in the woods, to a movie, or maybe you could just play games together.
• Encourage the survivors to talk. Talking can release pent-up emotions and clear the way for people to confront their loss. Often people can see their situation more objectively when they talk to those who are willing to listen.
• Be a good listener. Try to keep your mouth shut and your ears open. Don't advise, analyze or judge the person by saying things like, "Don't be so emotional," or "That's not worth worrying about" or "I think you should...."
Instead, say things that encourage the person to keep talking: "Tell me more about that," "How do you feel about that?" "I can see this bothers you" or "How can I help you resolve this?"
Unfortunately, family members and friends are often poor listeners, not because they don't care, but because they want to make things better, to give advice, to solve the problem.
Avoid these bad listening habits: drawing conclusions, passing judgment until you have understood what the other person has said, changing what the other person has said, interrupting or changing the subject, disputing the other person's feelings, judging the other person's motives, finishing thoughts or sentences for the other person, engaging in "wishful listening" (hearing only what you want to hear), rehearsing your response while the other person is still talking and rushing the other person.
• Encourage solutions. Help people come up with solutions for the near future and encourage them to work toward those solutions. Help them find the resources to cope. Tell them it is a sign of strength and maturity to accept help. You may have to help them get the help they need by making appointments or going with them once appointments are made.
• Help survivors have fun. Suggest doing something you know they like to do and make it easy for them to get out and do it. Make a list of activities you both enjoy, choose one activity you can do together each week.
For information on related hurricane recovery topics, click on the links at the LSU AgCenter home page, at www.lsuagcenter.com. For local information and educational programs, contact an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office.