For anyone affected by the California wildfires

  • October 25, 2007

Written by Brian Reinhardt, Ph.D.
Dir., Counseling & Psych. Services (CaPS)

The recent devastation of the California Wildfires may have an impact on students here at Cal State East Bay. The Counseling and Psychological Services (CaPS) Department would like students affected by these events to know that our office is available for support.

Disasters can make us all feel vulnerable, whether we are impacted directly or indirectly. Events such as wildfires can seem to have no rhyme or reason as to how they start and the damage they can inflict upon people's property and their lives.

Why is this event so stressful?

• Loss. We may experience the loss directly or indirectly. Sometimes one loss can remind us of other losses that we have had.

• Lack of control. Part of what makes all disasters so unnerving is they reveal our limitations as human beings. Despite our best human efforts, natural disasters can and do escape our ability to control them and the damage they can do. Innocent people can get hurt, property is destroyed, beautiful areas are ruined, and we can feel helpless.

• Emotional overload. We might be feeling like we can't catch our breath between disasters. We may find ourselves moody, irritable impatient or have difficulty concentrating. These are all normal reactions to catastrophic events.

• Fear of additional destruction. We don't know what will happen next, so we are in a state of alert.

• Uncertainty. We don't know when this fire will be contained, or if others loom on the horizon; and if we are relocated, we don't know when we can return, and what may be facing us when we do. If we are assisting others, the indefinite nature of this event can also be stressful.

• Trauma associated with seeing so much destruction so close at hand. Seeing the tremendous destructive power of fire and the possibility of being in harm's way can be very disturbing. Seeing the fires on TV may remind some of the tragic Oakland fires or other disasters.

• Feelings that there should have been some way to prevent such a disaster from happening.

• Media coverage. When we view and review the damage repeatedly, we can all be impacted by the disaster.

How You Can Help Yourself and Others During the California Fires Crisis?

• Reduce the input. High levels of anxiety made worse by watching TV, listening to the radio, and reading news can be lowered by limiting your exposure to the sights and sounds of the disaster. Try watching television reports at the beginning of the hour when they summarize the news and do this only every few hours.

• Recognize your own feelings. Knowing that some of the physical and emotional problems you might be experiencing are stress related helps to reduce their effect on you. It also helps to know that this is a shared experience.

• Talk to others about your feelings. Understand that many others may share these feelings about what you are experiencing.

• Take Care of Yourself. This is a time to practice self-care and to nurture yourself. Think of things you have done in the past that help you to feel better. Appreciate people and things around you.

• Accept help from others. If you need help putting your feelings in perspective, talk to a mental health worker. In this kind of situation your coping skills may be stretched.

• Deal with your anger and stress. Anger may be a part of what you are feeling in response to this disaster. Exercise or strenuous physical activity is one way to deal with anger, and is great for relieving stress. Deep breathing or meditation can also defuse anger and release stress.

• Focus on the positive. Think about the courage and commitment of the responders - firefighters, police, state officials, Red Cross and other voluntary agency staff, and thousands of spontaneous volunteers. The outpouring of support for those directly impacted has been tremendous.

• Reach out. Offer to listen to others who might need to talk. If you feel so moved, offer to volunteer time, money or necessities to those who have lost homes. Your local Red Cross chapter can offer suggestions about what is most needed.

Do something you enjoy and stay connected. Whenever possible, take a few minutes to enjoy the people and nature around you.

CaPS is open Monday through Thursday, 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Fridays 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended hours on Wednesdays until 7 p.m. Students may contact CaPS during regular work hours by either coming in to the office located in the Student Health Services Building or by calling (510) 885-3690.

Faculty and staff can access support through their insurance providers or through the Employee Assistance Program, PacifiCare, at (800) 999-9585.

More information is available online at Counseling and Psychological Services.

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