When catastrophe happens, it is not just those directly victimized who are traumatized. Even those far away find themselves feeling similarly anxious, jittery, angry, and depressed.

“’Survivor guilt’ is used to describe the feeling of guilt that one experiences even if they did nothing wrong,” explains Dr. Ronald Elepaño III, a Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry Fellow at the Department of Psychiatry in The Medical City Hospital, Pasig City.

“In the case of Typhoon Yolanda, these people may feel that they are responsible for the plight of the victims in the Visayas.” Survivor guilt is perfectly normal and it may be a way of coping with a tragedy. In fact, the Department of Education (Deped) has announced that it is looking for volunteers to help people mentally and emotionally deal with the effects of Yolanda.

The World Health Organization recommends the use of Psychological First-aid after a disaster. Dr. Elepaño says, “Mental health professionals can help people process and reflect on their feelings, to make them feel safe, calm, and secure This is also one way of identifying if someone is adversely affected enough to warrant further assistance.”

If you find yourself uncharacteristically feeling stressed, restless (or lethargic), anxious, depressed, angry, or even hungry (or experience loss of appetite) over events, statements and even images relating to Typhoon Yolanda, there is a possibility you may be suffering from survivor guilt as well.

Here are 8 ways you can cope:

8. Acknowledge that what you are feeling is normal

Anybody can experience survivor guilt, and you are certainly not “maarte” for feeling affected.

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7. Take a break from social networking sites or other media

“Facebook and Twitter is a good way for getting news, but it may also contain inaccurate or invalid information that may further fuel our anxieties,” points out Dr. Elepaño. Monitoring the news on television or radio may also cause undue stress. It’s all right to step away for a bit.

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6. You are not obligated to be a counselor

If you encounter someone who is affected by the events brought on by Typhoon Yolanda, do not feel pressured to comfort him or find a solution to his problems. Sometimes, just listening helps. It’s all right to admit if you feel you don’t have the skills, techniques or temperament to counsel someone. Refer him to a professional if you feel he really needs it.

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5. Don’t put your own life on hold

Do not feel guilty for watching a movie, for laughing at a joke, or for eating out in a restaurant. Guilt will dissipate, not disappear instantly.

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4. Find your space

If you don’t feel like talking to someone just yet, just write down your feelings.Or find a quiet spot where you can meditate or even pray. If you feel it will help you to sing a song or draw or paint or drive around aimlessly for a while, go ahead.

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3. Take action

“Survivor’s guilt may stem from a feeling of helplessness. A way to allay this is to help in any way that you can, by doing volunteer work, donating, or even simply offering a prayer,” advises Dr. Elepaño.

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2. Seek help

Talk to mental health professionals such as trained counselors (like a school guidance counselor) and doctors (such as psychiatrists) . Seek out your spiritual leaders. Talking it out with coworkers, friends and family members can also help you manage your feelings.

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1. Overall, be patient

Be patient with the relief operations that are underway, trust that there are good people out there who are doing their best with what resources they have to help those in need.

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Above all, be patient with yourself. “Healing takes time, and a daily dose of calmness goes a long way,” assures Dr. Elepano. “Practice relaxation techniques to manage anxious emotions that may flood you. Take things one day at a time and live in the moment. There is no use worrying about things that you cannot control.”

If you feel you need professional help, contact the following counseling centers/hotlines:

  • žThe Medical City Department of Psychiatry Out-Patient Department: (632) 689-8278
  • 24/7 HOPELINE: (632) 804-HOPE (4673), 0917-558-HOPE (4673), 2919 (toll-free number for ALL GLOBE and TM subscribers)
  • žCrisis Line Philippines: (632)893-7606

To volunteer for the Department of Education (Deped)’s efforts in conducting psychosocial intervention and stress debriefing for victims of Typhoon Yolanda, contact 632-9935 or (0917) 880-9655 or register online.

If you know of other resources to help other readers manage their mental or emotional wellbeing in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda, please share in the Comments Section.

Jaclyn Lutanco-Chua

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