An obvious change during this earthquake is the priority that has been exerted on the mental health of the victims, volunteers, rescue teams and us journalists who have involved in the crisis reporting is unseen in the history. This afternoon, Beijing United Family Hospital's psychiatrist Ms. Chang Wei was invited to give a speech to reporters on how to deal with shock after crisis reporting. Here are some of the guidelines:
The Critical Incident
Something happens: it is sudden, senseless. It affects not only the victim(s), but family, friends, co-workers and acquaintances. The incident can shatter your sense of safety, well being and competence. Your ability to function normally may be temporarily disrupted.
Individuals will react with different levels of intensity. However, most people will experience some form of reaction which is outside the range of their usual way of coping. People may experience the following after a traumatic event:
Numbness. You may withdraw from others, feel down, emotionally drained or "lost in a fog" and have difficulty concentrating.
Hyper Arousal. You may feel irritable or have flashbacks to the incident. You may be easily startled, feel nervous or have nightmares.
It's not uncommon to go back and forth between these two states. You may feel numb one day and irritable the next. The traumatic experience may bring back situation from the past in which you felt helpless or out of control.
Wall off the Pain. When a crisis occurs, the normal tendency is to put feelings and emotions aside. Your instinct tells you to try to keep the incident separate from the rest of your life.
This strategy may be necessary to keep you going in the immediate crisis. The problem is that it usually doesn't work in the long run. Refusing to talk or think about what happened doesn't undo it. Often the effects break through later, maybe years later.
What is a Critical Incident Response?
The critical incident response is a temporary reaction to a serious event. Understanding that you may be having a normal response to an abnormal experience, and then making a conscious effort to work through it, will ultimately help you to overcome the stress and pain.
Common Critical Incident Responses
Physical: Fatigue, Nervous energy, Appetite changes, Neck/back pain, Headaches, Chest pain/heart palpitations, Dizzy spells, Insomnia/nightmares
Emotional: Feeling jumpy or easily startled, Irritability, Difficulty concentrating, intrusive thoughts about what happened, Avoidance of people, places & activities, Anger, Feelings of helplessness, Flashbacks
Productivity: Inability to concentrate, Making more mistakes than usual, Trouble remembering things, Tendency to overwork, Staying home from work more often
Taking Care of Yourself
Relaxation techniques can be helpful. Stress is completely normal at a time like this. Acknowledge that you may have a lot of unpleasant feelings. Learn some stress management strategies and use them frequently. Give yourself time to recover from the crisis.
Sleep is always imortant, but especially now. Restlessness, nightmares and obsessing about the evernt can disrupt your sleep. Make sure you allow enough time for a full night's sleep. If you have difficulty sleeping for more than a week, consult your doctor.
Exercise can help clear the cobwebs. A brisk walk is good for the body and has a calming effect on the mind as well. Mild exercise can help combat stress but don't overdo it. Even if you exercise regularly, over exercising can lead to injury. You don't need that right now.
Traps to Avoid
Smoking is always a health risk. Unfortunately, many ex-smokers become current smokers during crisis. Try to avoid using cigarettes as a crutch.
Alcohol and other drugs. Under extreme stress people may try to "self medicate" with alcohol, caffeine and/or other drugs, legal and illegal.
When you are in pain, it's hard to tell what is enough. Perhaps the best idea is to try to avoid mood-altering substances as much as possible. They may cause far more problems than they solve. Instead of a drink, take a walk. Instead of pills, try talking to friends or to your spouse.
Suggested Post Trauma "Do and Don'ts"
Get ample rest, Maintain a good diet and exercise, Take time for leisure activities, Structure your life as much as possible but allow that you may not be able to follow through, Find and talk to supportive peers and/or family members about the incident, Learn about post trauma stress, Spend time with family and friends, Expect the incident to bother you, Get extra help from a post trauma counselor if you need it.
Drink alcohol excessively, use legal or illegal substances to numb consequences, Withdraw from significant others, Stay away from work, Reduce amount of leisure activities, Have unrealistic expectations for recovery, Lock for easy answers, Make major life changes or decisions at this time, Be hard on yourself or others.
Hopefully some of the above would be of some help to reporters, or whoever, that has involved in the disaster in any way.