Nor'easter Stress is Normal for Sandy Survivors

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At the height of Sandy, Jane Frank clung to her husband and three boys as the water rose. It flooded their basement and rose as high as the first floor of their Belle Harbor home in the Rockaway section of Queens. Despite the pounding rains and gusting winds, they were forced to open the upstairs windows because the smell of gas from leaks and fires in the area made it difficult to breathe.

Now their house is uninhabitable. She's relocated her family a hundred miles away to her parent's summer home in upstate New York.

And Frank said she's feeling overwhelmed and uncertain about the future. The nor'easter that bore down on the area today made her particularly anxious.

"With another storm coming in I feel like we are up against a clock," she said. "We're terrified it will set things back and it'll take even longer to get back home."

Simon Rego, the director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, said Frank's anxiety over the incoming weather is perfectly normal, considering what she's been through.

"People's brains are wired with a radar system that helps them look out for potential threats," he said. "It makes sense that after going through a traumatic event like a natural disaster we're primed to react to similar events."

Frank probably isn't the only one who's feeling nervous about the incoming storm system. Rego said anyone who weathered the worst of Sandy may already be suffering from acute stress disorder, a precursor to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Looking up at the storm clouds may make them feel anxious, fearful and depressed, he said, or they may feel a sense of emotional detachment to what's going on around them. They may have trouble sleeping and eating – or may they sleep too much and overeat. They may become obsessed with news reports about the storm or go to great lengths to avoid them altogether. Headaches, stomach upsets and other physical ailments are also typical symptoms of stress.

"For someone who has experienced Sandy, they may fear the worst is yet to come with this new storm," Rego said.

According to Rego, it's natural to feel worried about a storm coming in right on the heels of a superstorm. For people who've recently gone without power, heat, water -- or a place to live -- it brings up legitimate concerns.

But there are ways to help oneself. Rego said it's important to keep things in perspective by recognizing Sandy was a storm of historical proportions and a very rare event.

"Try to balance the extreme negative thoughts with more reality-based thoughts. There will be snow and wind this time around, but nothing that's predicted will be on the same scale as what Hurricane Sandy gave us," he said.

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