Archive for the ‘Disasters’ Category


Helping Kids Deal With The Moore Tornado and other Disasters

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Children can be particularly vulnerable to distressing weather and events.  Even children that were not directly affected will be deeply disturbed by these community wide disasters. Most parents have not been taught to look for signs that children are under stress, or even intense stress. This blog, by request, will give you some tips on helping your children recover from the devastating tornadoes in the midwest.

First know that your child is stressed. Some signs that children are stressed include:

– repetitive talk about the event 
– repetitive drawing of the event
– unusually irritable
– unusually withdrawn
– needy and clingy
– more forgetful than usual
– having trouble regulating emotions: laughing silly “highs” crash into sullen “lows”
– hair-pulling (trichotillomania)
– disturbed eating
– disturbed sleep

We forget what it is like to be a child. Under 14 years of age, children have some awareness that they cannot survive without adult assistance; this is especially true for very young children. Children watch their parents very carefully and take their cues from them about whether they should be upset or not. In addition children have losses in the storm that adults may trivialize or not realize the depth of the loss. For instance, a parent may not know that a stuffed animal was more like a best friend, or that a destroyed work of their art has taken away a precious sense of self. Because parents are suffering their own losses and in survival mode they may not feel like children are dealing with anything significant, but, of course, they are. 

Here are some ways to help your child heal in the aftermath:

1) Limit media exposure of the event. Adults tend to watch traumatic events obsessively but we know from 9/11 that this can create traumas in kids who may not understand that they are seeing the same event repeated rather than several different events. TV may make them think the world is ending

2) Set some “processing” time aside every day for your kids where they can express their feelings. Young children (3yrs-8yrs) might be encouraged to color, draw a picture, or engage in puppet play. 8-12 years olds might want more information about storms, or just to spend time playing games. (Experienced child therapists know that most kids need to be occupied with a game or activity in order to talk about their feelings.) Teenagers may be able to sit and talk if they are mature, and are invited to participate in a judgment free zone. Also, ball throwing and basketball hoop shooting are excellent ways to get kids to open up. During this time turn off your phone and your own agendas and create a lot of space to just listen or answer questions.

3) Try to keep a normal rhythm to the day, even if you are in a shelter. Have regular mealtimes, structured activities and a bed time.

4) Speaking of bedtime, be aware that sleep may be difficult at first. Kids may be having unpleasant dreams processing the storm. Be patient and non-judgmental about this, while helping maintain a schedule.

5) Monitor your own reactions. Calm yourself down as much as possible. Do not share horrible new stories with your kids or in earshot of them. They will be alarmed but will not tell you.

6) Understand that quiet kids may not be OK. Invite them to play with you or help you with simple chores. Reinforce any sharing with your attention and love.

7) Provide lots of hugs and affection. Take time for yourself and for them. You both need the contact!

8) If your child has a pronounced behavioral change reach out for professional help ASAP. Red Cross will have referrals for free and low-income therapy professionals.

9) Be active in reassuring your children that life will get better. Hold the optimism for them, even if you are feeling discouraged. This is kind and wise parenting.

10) Lastly, cultivate patience! Be patient with your kids and be patient with the city and be patient with yourself. Stop and breathe as needed. Practice self-care and stay aware of your own needs! Then you won’t resist the children’s needs when they are up.

Know that there are so many of us pulling for all of you and your kids. Our hearts go out to yours. Be well and be safe!




The Root of Violence: Solutions for a Beleaguered World

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When I was in high school and the world’s population was at about 4 billion, I saw a video about an experiment in rat overcrowding. The researchers showed very clearly that up until a certain population the rats were civil, harmonious and happy. When they became overcrowded, the rats turned on each other and a cycle of violence began. I remembered wondering where that tipping point was for humanity.

Today the world’s population stands at about 7 billion, ready to top 8 billion in the next decade. I cannot help but wonder if the world is getting too crowded to maintain civil societies. At least in the old models.

Fortunately, we are not rats. We are human beings with a plethora of ingenious human tools at our disposal, the foremost being a thinking, self-reflective brain. We can not only reshape our environment, we can also reshape our bodies, personalities and even our own brains.

Clearly, it is time to evolve.

What would it take to stop the violence?

Currently it is popular to blame religion for violence. But I don’t buy it. Historically, nationalism was blamed for wars. But we didn’t abolish nations, nor could we. Anymore than we can abolish religion. The search for God and religion seems to be hardwired into the very fabric of humanity. And that’s potentially a good thing. Innumerable hospitals, orphanages, and other charitable endeavors have been supported by large religious bodies.

Look, I’m a therapist. I’ve spent a lifetime peering into the hidden mechanisms of human consciousness. I’ve worked with victims and perpetrators of violence, religious, atheist, you name it.

And the root of violence is pretty simple. The recipe is this: take a human ego, prone to intense biological impulses like sex and aggression, add a dose of rejection, violence, or trauma and withhold empathy, attachment and kindness. Don’t forget to add the testosterone, or all that violence will turn inwards. This is the basic formula; there are of course endless ways to “spice” things up. Anything that disinhibits a human helps: drugs, a charismatic leader, any kind of reward real or imagined, spiritual or material. You get the picture.

When the world becomes an overall less kinder place to be, when governments exist to punish and control rather than support, when adults are too busy trying to survive than to connect, when children are subjected to all manner of abuse growing up, when basic needs are withheld (food, shelter, education), then we can be sure the rise of violence is around the corner.
My little piece of contribution centers around psychological trauma. Like the tipping point for rat populations, I believe that there is a tipping point for the number of citizens with untreated abuse and trauma issues that starts to unravel societies and the fabric of civilization gets weak, gauzy and prone to tears.

That is why I wrote The Trauma Tool Kit: Healing PTSD From the Inside Out. But one book is not enough to stem the tide.

If we want to turn this around we need the biggest investment in our humanity the world has ever seen.

Our healthcare system is broke.
Out educational system is broke.
Our national aggression is disproportionately funded.
PTSD is a national (and global) epidemic.
Our TV and media is a wasteland of violence, sex and empty, puerile stories aimed at the basest nature of humans.
Adults can’t find meaningful work or time to connect.
Children can’t get their emotional needs met so they are turning to early sex, drugs, computers and violent videogames.

Like the global climate crisis we are in, we are in a crisis of our own humanity.

We need to ask ourselves: what does it mean to be human? Are we living lifestyles that are in alignment with our values and ideals, or have we given up?

The answers are simple. Accomplishing them requires insight, wisdom and the will of the people.

1) Convert from a permanent wartime economy to a peace economy. Stop trying to control the world and get back to taking care of American citizens.
2) Reinstate the important status of mothers in the world by funding them to stay home with their children as needed. Working mothers is a redundant, and obnoxious term. We need to recognize that all mothers are, by definition, working.
3) Stop projecting our own internal demons onto other groups: immigrants, “terrorists”, “dirty hippies”, whatever. And affirm the dignity of all human beings, the vast majority of whom merely seek to be happy.
4) Reign in the vast greed industries and interests in Washington.
5) Recognize that only people are people. Corporations are sociopathic entities.
6) Fund a single payer healthcare system and come into the 21st century.
7) Throw out the educational dictates of the last 20 years and create sound educational ideas that really engage students and teachers in learning in the new millennium.
8) Turn off your TV. Or at least have enforced rules about usage .
9) Heal your traumas. Help yourself.
10) Recognize that your children, friends and neighbors may be struggling quietly and desperately in need of help. Help them.
11) Spend more time with your kids. Quality is not enough. Quantity is also required for healthy kids. Don’t let computers and TV parent.
12) Create community events for connection. Host a potluck once/month. Get involved. Talk to your neighbors. Get over your fear of the ‘other’.
13) MEDITATE. Rats can’t meditate, we can. If we all just calmed down and healed our own brains, it would be enough.

OK, then. We do have choices. It’s either us or no one. We can cower in fear waiting for the next attack, the next screw gone loose, or we can start changing our communities here and now.

I vote for now. I’ll go meditate on it, and then I will act.




Sandy Update 3: Top Five Reasons You’re Eligible to Apply for SBA Disaster Assistance | SBA.gov

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Sandy Update 3: Top Five Reasons You’re Eligible to Apply for SBA Disaster Assistance | SBA.gov

If you have property destruction from Sandy, please read this very important article.  You don’t have to be a business owner or to have insurance to apply for a low interest loan from the Small Business Administration.  You might also be able to apply even if you live in a Coastal Barrier Zone.  Most loans are made at four percent! The remainder are at six percent. Read the article for complete details.




Helping Kids Recover From Hurricane Sandy

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Children can be particularly vulnerable to distressing weather and events. Most parents have not been taught to look for signs that children are under stress, or even intense stress. This blog, by request, will give you some tips on helping your children recover from Sandy.

First know that your child is stressed. Some signs that children are stressed include:

– repetitive talk about the event 
– repetitive drawing of the event
– unusually irritable
– unusually withdrawn
– needy and clingy
– more forgetful than usual
– having trouble regulating emotions: laughing silly “highs” crash into sullen “lows”
– hair-pulling (trichotillomania)
– disturbed eating
– disturbed sleep

We forget what it is like to be a child. Under 14 years of age, children have some awareness that they cannot survive without adult assistance; this is especially true for very young children. Children watch their parents very carefully and take their cues from them about whether they should be upset or not. In addition children have losses in the storm that adults may trivialize or not realize the depth of the loss. For instance, a parent may not know that a stuffed animal was more like a best friend, or that a destroyed work of their art has taken away a precious sense of self. Because parents are suffering their own losses and in survival mode they may not feel like children are dealing with anything significant, but, of course, they are. 

Here are some ways to help your child heal in the aftermath:

1) Limit media exposure of the event. Adults tend to watch traumatic events obsessively but we know from 9/11 that this can create traumas in kids who may not understand that they are seeing the same event repeated rather than several different events. TV may make them think the world is ending

2) Set some “processing” time aside every day for your kids where they can express their feelings. Young children (3yrs-8yrs) might be encouraged to color, draw a picture, or engage in puppet play. 8-12 years olds might want more information about storms, or just to spend time playing games. (Experienced child therapists know that most kids need to be occupied with a game or activity in order to talk about their feelings.) Teenagers may be able to sit and talk if they are mature, and are invited to participate in a judgment free zone. Also, ball throwing and basketball hoop shooting are excellent ways to get kids to open up. During this time turn off your phone and your own agendas and create a lot of space to just listen or answer questions.

3) Try to keep a normal rhythm to the day, even if you are in a shelter. Have regular mealtimes, structured activities and a bed time.

4) Speaking of bedtime, be aware that sleep may be difficult at first. Kids may be having unpleasant dreams processing the storm. Be patient and non-judgmental about this, while helping maintain a schedule.

5) Monitor your own reactions. Calm yourself down as much as possible. Do not share horrible new stories with your kids or in earshot of them. They will be alarmed but will not tell you.

6) Understand that quiet kids may not be OK. Invite them to play with you or help you with simple chores. Reinforce any sharing with your attention and love.

7) Provide lots of hugs and affection. Take time for yourself and for them. You both need the contact!

8) If your child has a pronounced behavioral change reach out for professional help ASAP. Red Cross will have referrals for free and low-income therapy professionals.

9) Be active in reassuring your children that life will get better. Hold the optimism for them, even if you are feeling discouraged. This is kind and wise parenting.

10) Lastly, cultivate patience! Be patient with your kids and be patient with the city and be patient with yourself. Stop and breathe as needed. Practice self-care and stay aware of your own needs! Then you won’t resist the children’s needs when they are up.

Know that there are so many of us pulling for all of you and your kids. Be well and be safe!




Hurricane Sandy: Ten Tips to Help You Weather the Storm

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Sandy is a big unsexy monster ready to pound the East Coast. Here are some tips for surviving the storm and its aftermath.

1) Don’t be afraid to get help! This is no time for pride. NGO’s and government assistance programs exist to help people in need. Helping in emergencies is a core function of government (and your taxes) and, indeed, a mark of a civilized society. If you wait too long to get help you may end up inconveniencing and/or endangering yourself, those around you or those who can help you. It’s really OK. We all need assistance some time in our lives. Maybe it’s your turn.

2) FEMA is a great resource. Many states along the Mid-Atlantic and the East Coast have shelters open in response to Hurricane Sandy. Search for an open shelter by texting SHELTER + a zip code to 43362 (4FEMA). You can also download the FEMA disaster app for the device of your choosing here:http://apps.usa.gov/fema-mobile.shtml.

3) RED CROSS (NGO) is over 130 years old and helps approximately 70,000 people a year survive and thrive after disasters. Be prepared: From your mobile phone, call “**REDCROSS” (**73327677) and they will send you a link to download the app to your phone or you can download them directly from the iTunes or Google Play app stores. If you don’t need them, great. But if you do, you will have their information at the ready! Use them; you can always make a donation later.

4) Know where your local homeless shelter is. Up and down the East Coast homeless shelters have been expanding services. If your home or apartment becomes unlivable during the storm, go there! Here is a link for all the homeless shelters in the state of New York:http://www.homelessshelterdirectory.org/newyork.html

5) Find a church. Any church. Whether you are a believer or not. Churches have been gearing up for this storm for days. They don’t care about the state of your belief or non-belief. They just want to help. Let them.

6) Make sure you stay on any and all medications! If you run out or something happens, get more at your local Emergency Room. When I worked on the no-name storm (aka Perfect Storm) one of the biggest problems was people who had lost or gone off of their medication. You can become disoriented and ill quickly going off some medications suddenly. Set timers and be sure you stay on schedule! Time gets wonky when there is a big storm or emergency happening. If you have to evacuate suddenly, make your medications a priority in packing!

7) Keep yourself busy and happy. Storms bring unexpected bonuses in terms of companionship, comraderie, time off, clearing of pollution, quiet, relief from inane media, and neighborliness. In the no-name storm, people who ventured out onto the beach after the storm found hundreds of flash-frozen lobsters ready for the picking!

8) Check on your neighbors – especially those who are infirm, elderly or who have children. You might become somebody’s patron saint!

9) Don’t do work beyond your capacity (be a foolish hero). There is an abundance of emergency workers on call for power outages, health emergencies, etc. Let them do their work as professionals. You do them the biggest favor by staying out of their way and keeping yourself safe.

10) Don’t panic over material goods. There are many resources available to help you build your life and home back after the storm. One of these is the Small Business Administration. According to their website: “The SBA provides low interest disaster loans to homeowners, renters businesses of all sizes and private, nonprofit organizations to repair or replace real estate, personal property, machinery & equipment, inventory and business assets that have been damaged or destroyed in a declared disaster.” http://www.sba.gov/category/navigation-structure/loans-grants/small-business-loans/disaster-loans




Trauma and Attachment

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Here’s a little known fact about trauma: an experience of extreme stress or trauma always ruptures a sense of connection and secure attachment in the world. 

What do I mean by that?

The world and our sense of safety and connection in it profoundly altered by the sense of disconnection. This makes healing from trauma a doubly hard endeavor.

Here are some examples of common traumas and the ruptured attachment:

Rape: strangers, your own judgment, even a whole gender (men, usually).

War: commanding officers, countries, your own country, people of other races

Child Abuse: authority figures, intimate relationships, justice system, sense of self

Natural Disaster: God, nature, government (if inadequate response)

Car Accidents: other drivers, own judgment, motor vehicles

Major Medical Illness: body, medical system (if inadequate), society (if not able to get insurance or help due to finances)

There are, of course, many other kinds of trauma and endless variations on disrupted attachment and connection depending on the experience involved.

All victims of traumas naturally experience a questioning of and sense of separation from self. Most end up having some sort of spiritual crisis in that their attachment to a higher power is called into question.

Without feeling secure in the world it’s easy to become lost and not know where to turn to for help when you need it the most. Therapists often underestimate the damage done by rupture of secure attachment in the midst of crisis, and patients often end up feeling angry, guilty and paralyzed. 

It is important to not pathologize these responses but to see them as a normal conditioned response to trauma and extreme stress. 

So, easy does it. When you are ready, sit down and think about areas of mistrust that result directly from your trauma. Be good to yourself today!




5 Ways to Manage Post-Disaster PTSD

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I just had a lovely interview with Luke Hayes, of MyRecovery Disaster Resilience Radio. We discussed helpful ways to prevent and overcome post traumatic stress around natural disasters, that are increasing in frequency and intensity around the world.

1) Be prepared. Don’t think it can’t happen to you (denial). Have food and water items stocked. Know what kind of disasters could happen in your area. Make a plan for a quick evacuation. An ounce of preparation is worth a pound of loss later. We don’t think and plan well in the midst of crisis. So plan ahead!

2) Know where to find help. Form a community organization. Familiarize yourself with local assistance such as Red Cross, shelters etc. If your community does not have such assistance consider forming a group yourself. People have much less trauma when they feel looked after by their community.

3) Practice control over your mind and emotions now. The first technique I teach my patients about PTSD is a single pointed meditation. Focus on one object for 3-5 minutes at a time. Most of us have flabby mind muscles. This exercise strengthens our ability to focus in a crisis and its aftermath while staying calm. It is easier to keep the mind calm when we have practiced at it ahead of time.

4) If you have severe trauma after a disaster seek help. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Response) is a powerful modality that involves eye movements that dissipates traumatic responses. It seems to work best on those who did not grow up with tremendous amounts of trauma. The results can be surprisingly fast and powerful.

5) Restore yourself and your body after the crisis has resolved. The body is profoundly affected and in some cases permanently altered by trauma. The endocrine system and central nervous systems may take weeks to months to heal fully affecting appetite, weight, autoimmune responses, mood swings, sleep patterns, libido and other aspects of human life. Most people tend to underestimate the results of trauma. Take the time you need to get help and heal yourself. It may take some time. 

You are valuable. You are needed. You deserve to heal!




9/11 Thoughts

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Like most of the country, I have been engaged in a review of thoughts and feelings on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 yesterday. As well as being a national trauma anniversary, it is also a personal anniversary for me.  

I found myself needing to talk, cry, and tell my story again. I also wanted to listen to the stories of others affected by this day. I am always surprised at the power of anniversaries, as if a divot is made in time where we can fall into old thoughts and feelings so easily. The trauma waves surged and moved around and through me until I came again to the shore of myself, tired and depleted, but ready to go on once more.
 
It was a good reminder that some things continue to live inside of us, even after their resolution, that grief is a perennial flower that crops up at intervals.  I pulled out my old tools: kleenex, smudge, epsom salts for a cleansing soak after the storm.  I am grateful that there is life after PTSD for all of us, for hope and for healing.



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