For too many, the past few days have been some of the toughest in recent memory.
We gasped at the approach of a monster storm, no less formidable because of its casual moniker. In the days leading up to its arrival, our friends and family in the East prepared as best as they could. Then they hunkered down as Sandy wreaked havoc in a crazed rumpus.
Millions have begun to take the first steps on the road to recovery, daunting as it may be.
Stress and anxiety are a given in the aftermath of a natural disaster -- particularly for those living in shelters; those still lacking power; those attempting to return to work with no transit system; or those who must deal with insurance companies -- or worse.
Short-term emotional and behavioral reactions are both common and normal following a natural disaster, says Richard Heaps, a clinical psychologist and professor at Brigham Young University's counseling psychology department. Heaps has served as a disaster mental health volunteer with the American Red Cross since 1992.
"It's OK to mourn losses," says Heaps. "It's not an abnormal reaction, but healthy and appropriate."
Heaps and Melissa Brymer, director of Terrorism and Disaster Programs at the UCLA/Duke University National Center for Child Traumatic Stress, offer advice and strategies for stress management following natural disasters:
1. Keep in touch
Connection and communication are both critical right now, says Brymer.
People experiencing strong emotional reactions may sometimes withdraw and pull inside themselves, Heaps says. This gets in the way of managing and dealing with the stress of traumatic incidents. "These people may avoid threat, but they also avoid healing," he says.
Do not withdraw from important relationships, recommends Heaps. Keep in touch with the people you are worried about, so that you know what is happening instead of continuing to worry.
If necessary, find ways of connecting that require less energy, suggests Brymer. Send a text message. Use social media. There may be ways that work better for you than picking up a phone.
What's key, she says, is the connection, whatever form it may take.
Brymer also emphasizes the importance of connecting with your local community. "If you are relying too much on national networks, it will be difficult to find out what's happening in your area," she says. Connecting on a local level can help ease worries by providing important updates that are relevant to you.
2. Take care of yourself and get back to routines
As we strive for a return to normalcy, there may be a tendency toward over-work, particularly for those involved in some way in cleanup and recovery efforts.
Important though your job may be, Brymer suggests taking the time to care for yourself. "Think about what you're eating. Do your best to sleep enough. Consider whether there are any major decisions that you can put off right now."
We often do not recognize that the additional nuisances we have to deal with following a natural disaster can wear on us, says Brymer. "It's important to actively take care of yourself."
According to Heaps, reestablishing routines and returning to old patterns is important because they can serve as a signal that we are moving past the trauma.
Heaps also advises returning to normal eating and activity patterns -- and especially sleep patterns -- to the best of your ability.
"Some people find it difficult to do these things when they are stressed, but the more you return to these patterns, the more you return to normal," he says. "These routines will help your body and mind to function better."
3. Process through storytelling
Storytelling -- orally, in writing, or whatever other form it may take -- can be healing. Make an effort to talk to friends or family about what you experienced or write down your thoughts and ideas in a journal or diary.
"Communicating their thoughts and feelings helps people understand the reality of what they have experienced. It also opens the door to the possibility of moving forward past the trauma," says Heaps.
4. Honor other ways of coping