Time heals all disaster wounds, too
GIVEN time, most people recover well from a natural disaster. That’s the good news from Dr Rob Gordon, clinical psychologist and consultant through some of Australia’s and New Zealand’s most tragic natural and not-so-natural disasters – think Christchurch earthquake, Black Saturday fires, Bali bombing. Dr Gordon (pictured) visited Proserpine this week to support people affected by Cyclone Debbie and to offer recovery strategies to the community. “People who do recover well often reflect that they have changed their values,” he said. “They have a different sense of what’s important in life.” Dr Gordon said three problems followed a disaster. “The first is trauma, created by a sense of danger and the threat to me and my loved ones,” he said. “You can’t stop thinking about it, you’re in a heightened state of arousal and the stress causes you to focus on the immediate next task. “The second is loss. Loss of loved ones, property, community, amenity. “The appropriate response to this is grief, but there’s no time to stop and grieve. “People are conflicted. While they’re still vibrating with the danger they can’t focus on the grief. “The third is disruption – to routine, to relationships, to recreational activities. “We need an ordered environment to manage our emotions.” Dr Gordon said people cooking a meal in a familiar kitchen could function without thinking. “In an unfamiliar kitchen, it becomes a tedious chore. “Routines allow us free mental space and all the time we’re processing and mulling. “After a disaster nothing is routine and there’s no opportunity to do the processing and mulling. Everything builds up and gets raw and distressing.” Dr Gordon said even if the trauma faded, people stayed in a state of disruption until they developed new routines. “We’ve discovered disruption is just as important as loss.” Dr Gordon said it was important people didn’t just focus on the disaster. “We need to hang on to our recreational and social life, our relationships, or we fall out of the loop. “Instead of trying to do everything quickly, we need to do it slower, steadier and hang on to all the other things.” Dr Gordon said pleasure and leisure were the key. “To keep the nervous system in the right state, you need pleasure and leisure, whichever way that works for you,” he said. “Do something that gives you energy. It could be family or a walk in the bush, going to a concert, reading a book. “Leisure means you can unwind; it gives you time for mulling and processing. From the mulling you get a sense of self awareness and that’s what we have to safeguard. “You need to make a commitment to take care of yourself, including things like exercise and a healthy diet.”
◗ Airlie Beach residents Maika McDonald,15, Lauren Squires, Karen Gordon and Katelin Gordon survey the damage at Shute Harbour after Cyclone Debbie.