Coping with Crisis in the Wake of Typhoon Haiyan

From the other side of the world, UCSC students face loss, stress, and worry for loved ones.

It has been nearly two weeks since Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines, leaving a wake of destruction in its path. Relief efforts are beginning to make an impact, but in reality, recovering from this tragedy will take a long time. For those whose loved ones were lost or are missing, grief, shock, and fear are still fresh.

For me, this global tragedy was also personal. My family is from Leyte, and several of my relatives, including aunts, cousins, and my elderly grandmother still live in Carigara, a city near the hard-hit capital of Tacloban.  It was a tense and anxious week’s wait after the storm before we were able to get any news that all of my relatives, very fortunately, are ok. Many Filipino-Americans have not been as lucky, and others may still be waiting for news. For those of us here in Santa Cruz, it’s easy to feel helpless.

Sunrise over Carigara Bay. Photo courtesy of Custodio Borgueta. (Thanks Dad!)

Sunrise over Carigara Bay. Photo courtesy of Custodio Borgueta. (Thanks Dad!)

Crises like Haiyan bring up a range of reactions for people who are impacted, and it is important to know that if you are experiencing a stress reaction, you’re not alone. Mood swings, feeling “numb”, anxiety, feelings of guilt or anger, and problems concentrating are all common experiences. Some people find they have difficulty sleeping or experience nightmares. Others might find themselves having changes in appetite or experiencing other physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches, or muscle tension. Stress reactions can occur for a variety of reasons, including concern for family and friends in the Philippines, distress related to seeing disturbing images and stories in the news, or being reminded of other past incidents that may have affected you more directly. Some people experience these emotions immediately after a tragedy, but others may experience a delayed reaction weeks or months later. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to feel.

If you are struggling to cope with the impact of a crisis like Typhoon Haiyan, the most important advice I can give is to practice good self-care. This means taking care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally. The following is a list of tips that may help you cope with a stress reaction:

• Keep in touch with supportive friends and family—don’t isolate yourself. Ask someone to keep you company if being alone is hard.

• Try to rest more than usual, but don’t stop doing some of your normal activities and keeping close to a normal schedule (find a balance between rest and activity)

• Eat regular and nutritious meals and snacks, even when you have no appetite.

• Avoid using drugs, alcohol or compulsive behaviors (e.g., cutting, gambling) to cope. These things may help in the short run, but can prolong the amount of time it takes to feel better, prevent recovery, and often lead to more problems in the long run.

• Maintain regular physical exercise (even a short walk can be helpful).

• Try to express yourself through talking, writing or artwork, while also allowing your mind to be distracted from the incident at times (e.g., reading, watching a movie, time with a friend)—find a balance between letting your feelings out and giving yourself a break from them.

• Trust that the dreams, recurring thoughts and flashbacks of the event will become less frequent and painful over time.

Take some action if possible. On campus, the Asian American/Pacific Islander Resource Center (AA/PIRC) is currently seeking volunteers to help with relief efforts at UCSC. If you are interested, please contact AA/PIRC at 459-5349 or  The Filipino Student Association is tabling all this week 11am-5pm at the Quarry Plaza to raise funds for NAFCON USA (National Alliance for Filipino Concerns) to assist with relief efforts as well. FSA’s annual Community Gathering is at 7:30pm 11/25 at the Oakes Community Learning Center. The event will be a good place to connect with the campus Filipino community and a portion of the evening will be donated to education about Typhoon Haiyan.

• Seek professional help, particularly if the feelings are prolonged, persistent or too intense, or are interfering with your ability to function. One option is to walk in to CAPS to see a crisis counselor or call CAPS any time to speak with a crisis counselor by phone (831) 459-2628. You can also drop by our Let’s Talk hours to chat informally with a counselor in non-emergency situations.

Many thanks to Dr. Blair Davis for her help with this article and her list of tips on coping with crises.