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This is a special advertising section. The material was prepared by the advertising department and did not involve the reporting or editing staff of The Press Democrat.

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:

Eat healthy and drink plenty of water.

Get adequate sleep and rest.

Stay connected with family and friends. Getting and giving care and support is critical to recovery.

Be patient with yourself and with those around you.

Focus upon your strengths rather than what is not working.

Remember times that you’ve successfully gotten through difficult times in the past.

Prioritize and take things one step at a time.

Reach out when you need support or when symptoms are making it difficult to function.

It is also important to remember that grief is a normal part of dealing with loss, whether of property, loved ones, pets, or even old routines and patterns. Allowing yourself and your family time to talk about this and the feelings associated with this experience is important.

At West County Health Centers in the days and weeks after the fire, many health care visits began with a “fire check-in” where stories of evacuation, loss and disbelief were shared. This reflects the reality that everyone has been affected by the fires. Everyone has a story to tell, a feeling to process and a friend or family member who lost something. Jill Rees, a psychologist at West County Health Centers, reports: “I found myself feeling very ‘with’ all of my patients, coworkers, and friends because we shared the experience of this tragedy and there were zero degrees of separation. This ‘feeling with’ is what sustained me as it undid the aloneness inside of me which in turn supported me in being with others.”

For more information visit West County Health Centers website at www.wchealth.org.

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