Former Firefighter, San Diego Therapist Offers Tips to Cope with Post Traumatic Stress. SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- (May 20, 2014) — With the recent fires that have scorched parts of San Diego County, many locals who lived through and were in some way affected by the Cedar Fire in 2003 and Witch Fire in 2007 are likely to experience the effects of traumatic stress.
"You don't have to be directly affected by any of these fires to feel the effects of traumatic stress that might be triggered by witnessing another natural disaster," explains Sara G. Gilman, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with CounselingCalifornia.com and former firefighter. "Even watching a continuous loop of news about a disaster can have negative effects and lead to stress."
Common reactions to traumatic stress include physical responses such as a change in sleep patterns, change in appetite, shallow or rapid breathing, dizziness, headaches, muscle tension and soreness, increased heart rate, palpations, and stomach upset. Emotional responses can range from shock or numbness, anger toward others involved, fear, depression or low mood, guilt or frustration, sadness or tearfulness, feeling unsafe or vulnerable, and loneliness.
"When going through this, it's so important to stick to the basics. Eat well, get consistent cardio exercise, rest and sleep. Overuse of stimulants such as caffeine, chocolate, nicotine, and overuse of depressants such as alcohol or sleeping pills can make things worse," says Gilman. "It always helps to gravitate toward what is comfortable, and make sure you spend time with others. Humor is good!"
Gilman also advises sharing thoughts and feelings with those who are supportive. "Talking is good for the mind and body!" she says. "Thoughts of past memories can emerge, which is normal. There's no need to block recollections. But it is important to set boundaries with those who are not helpful or who are draining."
Mental and cognitive responses such as confusion, difficulty concentrating, difficulty remembering details of the event, feeling mentally foggy, impulsivity, and being over focused on an activity are also common during and after experiencing a traumatic event.
"These responses are common, but short-term. You have to give yourself time to recover. If reactions interfere with job or family responsibilities, or last too long, seek help," Gilman advises. "Just remember to slow down. Doing less is better for a short time. You aren't yourself right now, so give your brain the rest and time it needs to heal and reorganize."
Gilman also warns about behavioral responses that can lead to long-term issues if left unchecked. Withdrawal from others, angry outbursts and irritabilty, crying, decreased energy, decreased ambition, marital or relationship conflict, increased use of alcohol or medications, and or fear of being alone all signify that it's time to get help.
"Communicate your feelings clearly. Others may not know how to respond, so let them know what is helpful and what is not," said Gilman. "Most important, don't compare yourself to others. Each person's experience is unique and personal."
About the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists
The California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT) is an independent professional organization of approximately 30,000 members that has represented the interests of licensed marriage and family therapists for 50 years. It is dedicated to advancing the profession as an art and a science, to maintaining high standards of professional ethics, to upholding the qualifications for the profession and to expanding the recognition and awareness of the profession.
CounselingCalifornia.com, a free online resource provided by the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, is California's lifeline to nearly 8,000 licensed marriage and family therapists and other mental health professionals. At its heart, CounselingCalifornia.com contains a comprehensive searchable directory of licensed marriage and family therapists (MFTs) and other psychotherapists licensed to practice in the state of California. From surviving divorce to coping with depression, CounselingCalifornia.com provides valuable resources for managing difficult life challenges.
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