UH Professor: Traumatic Stress from Harvey Likely But Coping Strategies Can Help

Engaging with friends and family, volunteering, exercising, and writing in a journal can help curb the overwhelming stress that Houstonians and coastal Texans are feeling after Hurricane Harvey.

Ezemenari Obasi, associate dean of research at the University of Houston College of Education and an expert on stress physiology, cites these tips as ways to combat traumatic stress and improve mental health as part of the storm recovery process.

Chronic stress is linked to numerous health problems such as high blood pressure, depression, anxiety and addictions, Obasi said. People who were having trouble making ends meet even before Harvey are even more at risk.

“While the stress of experiencing a traumatic event like Harvey will certainly affect all of us one way or another, it was amazing to see neighbors and strangers band together to help those most in need,” said Obasi, a professor in the Department of Psychological, Health and Learning Sciences who has a Ph.D. in counseling psychology.

According to Obasi, here are several signs of traumatic stress and strategies for dealing with the trauma.

Signs of trauma and increased stress:

·         Loss of appetite or increased appetite

·         Difficulty sleeping and/or nightmares

·         Increased heart rate and/or chest pains

·         Shortness of breath

·         Increased feelings of fatigue

·         Increased sadness and/or crying

·         Difficulty concentrating

·         Mood swings

·         Flashbacks

·         Feelings of guilt, hopelessness or helplessness

·         Loss of interest in typically enjoyable activities

·         Feeling irritable, jumpy or on edge

·         Increased sweating


Tips to reduce stress and the impact of trauma:

·         Limit exposure to constant media coverage to avoid reliving the trauma.

·         Talk about the event. Normalize the experience. Share your thoughts with family or friends or in a journal.

·         Exercise or enjoy hobbies.

·         Volunteering to help others in need. Participate in community clean-ups.

·         Engage with family, friends, religious leaders or neighbors. Having a reliable social network is critical.

·         Find creative ways to use art to express your feelings about the experience.

·         Be available for others who need comfort.

·         Try to commit to a daily routine to build back a sense of normalcy.

·         Seek professional mental health assistance from a psychologist. Work with social workers and counselors to identify resources to help manage the trauma.

·         Engage in self-exploration to help see your strength and ways you have grown from the traumatic event.

·         Try to eat healthy meals and get plenty of sleep. Minimize or eliminate caffeine, alcohol, nicotine or other drug used to cope.

·         Consider stress-reduction activities such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, yoga or mindfulness.