"The Light at the End of the Tunnel: Learning to Cope with Loss" by Vicki Totten

There is one thing everyone in Rockport can agree upon. We have all just been through something traumatic. Whether you lost your home, a pet, your business, or simply are having trouble dealing with the loss of your favorite restaurant - most likely your life feels different than it did prior to August 25, when Hurricane Harvey came bearing down on Rockport, destroying everything in its wake.

Our response to trauma is just as varied as our personalities. Some people shut down. Others can't stop crying. Some people try and busy themselves so they don't have to think about what they have lost. And others may even react in violent outbursts. It can be helpful to normalize some of our emotional reactions, whether it is being mad, sad, or scared. When dealing with children, it can be helpful to encourage them to engage in recreational or physical activities, since these can provide healthy outlets. What we know from research about trauma is that it is important to acknowledge it and then to develop some healthy coping skills to address trauma's impact on you and your loved ones. Just because there are no outward signs of physical trauma, does not mean that someone isn't experiencing a traumatic reaction.

Based on my own background as a psychotherapist, interviews with various counselors well versed in dealing with trauma, and scouring the internet for the best methodologies currently used to help people who have experienced a natural disaster, below are some things to keep in mind as we all work to return to some sense of normalcy in our lives.

· While there may not be any physical signs of trauma, trauma takes an emotional toll. This is especially true for those people who are identified as the "first responders." Because they are attempting to do a job, their responses to trauma can sometimes be masked or delayed - but it is important to recognize signs of trauma and to provide healthy outlets for dealing with it.

· Some of the signs of trauma include: anxiety, feeling "revved up," irritability, hyper-vigilance, problems sleeping, and withdrawal or increased impatience.

· Other signs of trauma may be sudden stress related physical ailments, strained relationships and other changes in behaviors.

· It's important to recognize that you are not weak or abnormal if you are having an amplified response to having been through a trauma. We all respond differently based on our personalities, our background, and our prior experiences with traumatic experiences.

New advances in understanding the brain's reaction to trauma have also helped new methods emerge for handling trauma. There is current research that shows that mindfulness training and meditation can be extremely helpful for learning to slow down the mind's response to a traumatic event and access healthier coping mechanisms. Licensed Professional Counselor Gaea Logan, founder of the International Center for Mental Health and Human Rights (ICMHHR) and Psychologist Patricia Tollison are clinicians who have written extensively about the use of Contemplative Based Trauma and Resiliency Training (CBTRT). Their book, written with Kathy Synatschk, "Self-Regulation for Kids K-12: Strategies for Calming Minds and Behavior" would be especially helpful for parents and teachers wanting ways to help children cope with trauma more appropriately. For more information about using this method, refer to the information from the ICMHHR (www.icmhhr.org) in a separate article in the WWN Rockport.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), there are some steps you can take to help you regain some sense of control and to minimize trauma's negative impacts on you. For a more detailed list from the APA, go to: (http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/recovering-disasters.aspx)

· Give yourself time to adjust

· Ask for support from people who care about you

· Engage in healthy behaviors, using relaxation techniques, eating well-balanced meals, and avoiding alcohol and drugs that delay the use of active coping skills.

· Establish or reestablish routines such as regular meals, following an exercise program, or resuming pleasurable activities.

· Avoid making major life decisions, since those will add even more stress and make it harder to recover from the disaster.

It is also important to know when your response to trauma may require professional help. If you are experiencing persistent feelings of distress or hopelessness, you may want to seek out a mental health professional. Until Rockport's counseling services are back on-line, this may mean traveling to some nearby towns. Access Counseling, a non-profit agency in Rockport, suffered damage during the storm and according to Counselor Linda Lee, they don't yet know when they will be able to re-open. In speaking with her about how she works with people experiencing trauma, she indicated that she finds it helpful to remember that there are certain stages of trauma. According to Lee, "It's not abnormal to have shock and depression, and to bounce back and forth between all of these feelings, despair, hopelessness, until eventually you break back into reality and can start rebuilding."

As we begin to rebuild Rockport, maybe the thing we need to remain aware of is that in the rebuilding, we are making our way toward that light at the end of the tunnel.

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