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Resiliency is defined as the ability to overcome and bounce back from challenges of all kinds–traumatic events, tragedy, loss, personal crises and regular life problems.
The October North Bay fires and their aftermath present many challenges to the residents of Sonoma County, including how to be resilient in the face of so much widespread devastation.
The normal underpinnings of family, school and work routines, and neighborhood activity are disrupted during and after a widespread disaster such as Sonoma County experienced. Residents of the county are left to navigate their way through the long path to recovery. The rebuild will be with us a long time, and through many other life events, whether seasonal or personal. Caring for your mental health can be central to successfully moving through this process.
Health care facilities, like West County Health Centers, located in western Sonoma County but serving patients from throughout the region, have seen an increase in cases of depression, anxiety and other chronic illnesses. “People are more susceptible to trauma because they don’t have their normal community support,” said Jason Cunningham, medical director of West County Health Centers.
Widespread disasters like the North Bay fires can cause behavioral and emotional adjustment problems in both children and adults as well as exacerbate existing physical and mental health conditions.
People affected by disaster can have a wide range of reactions:
— Feeling physically fatigued
— Having difficulty with concentration and decision making
— Becoming easily frustrated
— Arguing more with family and friends
— Feeling tired, sad, numb, lonely or worried
— Having changes in sleep patterns
— Experiencing changes in appetite and eating patterns
— Feeling guilty, hopeless or helpless
In addition, children may react by developing fears, such as of separation from care givers. They may return to old behaviors such as bed wetting. Children’s view of the world as a safe place may be affected especially when parents and other adults around them are impacted.
Key to recovery—and being able to bounce back stronger than before—is dependent upon several factors.
First, recognize that stress reactions are usually temporary and will go away over time. It is normal for some of these symptoms to continue up to a few years although most can resolve after about 12-16 months. Threats to life, loss of loved ones, and property loss can make symptoms worse and lead to longer recovery times. Past experiences of trauma and stress may impact this process and affect recovery time.
Factors that affect resilience in recovery and help reduce the impact of trauma include the ability to feel in control and to be able to use coping styles that acknowledge the emotional impact of disaster.
Helping children recover and feel safe is important. Key to this is ensuring that parents seek support and manage stress in healthy ways.
It is not uncommon to feel overwhelmed, especially after the initial phase of the disaster is over, by the amount of information, time and detail that recovery requires. It is important to take things one step at a time, to avoid feeling pushed into decisions and to takes steps to ensure that you and your family can regain some sense of routine.
Some of the ways that we can help with personal recovery and improve resilience include: