GREENWICH, Conn. — Eating healthy, getting exercise and spending time with friends can help residents cope with stress brought on by natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy, says a doctor at Greenwich Hospital.
One cause of post-storm stress and anxiety is the disruption of daily routines, says Dr. Henri Roca, medical director of Greenwich Hospital's Integrative Medicine Program
"We lose our mental mind map," Roca says. "The challenge is that everything is different, from the places we usually go, the routes we drive, the colleagues and friends we see."
"Totally capable individuals under other circumstances don't know what to do," Roca said.
Stress can cause changes in sleep and appetite and cause feelings of listlessness, helplessness, indecisiveness, fear and anxiety.
"People tend to retreat to their houses, when the way out of the chaos and stress is exactly the opposite," said Roca, a New Orleans native who helped people cope with stress after Hurricane Katrina .
To stay strong and positive when dealing with a natural disaster, Roca suggests:
• Eat a diet high in protein. Avoid sweets and carbohydrates, especially simple carbs from white flour. People need protein to make neurotransmitters, the chemicals that help give you a sense of resilience.
• Exercise: Even if you only take a walk with family, get moving. Activity and sunlight can reduce depression.
• Seek other people: Talk to neighbors, visit friends and family. Ask for help if you need it.
• Re-prioritize. The things you need will come with time. The things you want will have to wait.
• Find ways to relax. Gentle music, meditation, deep breathing or reading.
• Be more flexible with your time — don't rush.
Shorter days as the clocks change also can trigger depression. If you have power, use "full-spectrum" lighting, Roca said. Consult with a doctor about taking Vitamin D - most adults need 2,000 IU, Roca said.
"The focus should be on maintaining nutrition, maintaining exercise, paying attention to the effect of light and the interaction with others, and then using some targeted supplements, remembering that during times of great stress nobody gets extra points for perfection," Roca said.