The Visiting Nurse Service of New York (VNSNY) Disaster Distress Response Program, funded by the American Red Cross, hosted its third post-Sandy stress management workshop at the North Babylon Public Library on Long Island on July 15. The workshop provided residents affected by Superstorm Sandy with an overview of VNSNY’s 10-week Disaster Distress Response Program.
The program includes 10 home visits from licensed clinical social workers to help Sandy affected residents recover emotionally.
“Emotional effects are not on the forefront of people’s minds after disasters like Sandy strike, said Dr. Kerry Symon, director of the Disaster Distress Response Program. “Distress doesn’t end with the disaster but continues with the rebuild. We need to take a look at how it affects people’s daily lives and emotional well-being.”
During the workshop, Dr. Symon and her team covered different ways to identify emotional distress and overcome negative feelings and thoughts. The 10-week program is divided into three areas: psycho-education, which deals with identifying primary emotional reactions and associated thoughts that prevent the recovery process; anxiety management, which focuses on reducing anxiety by changing behaviors and engaging in more pleasant activities; and cognitive restructure, which supports survivors in learning to change thought processes to reduce negative feelings.
A VNSNY staff member led the audience through a breathing technique to decrease anxiety. He instructed participants not to take deep breaths, but to inhale normally and exhale slowly with a pause between breaths.(Taking deep breaths fills the body with extra oxygen and prepares the body physiologically for a fight-or-flight response, thus inducing tension and anxiety.) The body slows down as the breaths slow down.
According to Symon, behavior, thoughts and feelings are interrelated. Directly changing the way people feel is impossible. However, doing pleasant activities and changing thought process will indirectly enhance feelings. “It’s normal to have negative thoughts and emotions after a disaster,” Symon said. “However, excessive negative thoughts will prevent you from doing pleasant activities.”
Based on the responses she received from people she has helped, Symon said that some were able to sleep better and regain more helpful outlooks on life. “In general, people start to feel they regain a sense of control using techniques they learned from the program,” she said.
VNSNY will be hosting more Disaster Distress Response Program workshops in August including:
August 11, 2:00 PM
Peninsula Library, 92-25 Rockaway Beach Blvd, Rockaway Beach 11693
August 13, 6:00 PM
Sheepshead Bay Library, 2636 East 14th St, Brooklyn, NY 11235
August 18, 5:45 PM
Seaside Library, 116-15 Rockaway Beach Blvd, Rockaway Park 11694
August 21, 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM **
North Babylon Public Library, 815 Deer Park Ave, North Babylon, NY 11703
** Licensed clinicians will be available to answer questions about the program; there will not be a presentation
If you and/or your loved ones need emotional support for post-Sandy distress, please contact the Disaster Distress Response Program at 718-888-6955.