The emotional symptoms of stress include, but are by no means limited to, moodiness, irritability, and anger. Physical symptoms can include headaches, nausea, insomnia, and all manner of physical pain. (Here’s a link to a detailed list of symptoms, just in case.)
If any of this sounds familiar, congratulations, you have been keeping well informed on current events. There is enough grief in the atmosphere to suffocate anybody. There are a lot of other, equally intolerable emotions, but if you’re still reading this I don’t need to catalogue them for you.
May I suggest that everybody here who is not physically in the front lines stop for a moment and take inventory: are stress effects starting to have a constant, or even just a distracting, effect on you, or somebody near you?
I don’t mean “are you depressed,” or frustrated, or angry. It would be a much bigger warning sign if we weren’t. I mean, is the depression coloring everything you see, whether it’s related to these events or not? Is the frustration keeping you from things that would normally define you — work, pleasure, ordinary conversation? Are you constantly angry, and is the anger spilling out onto people who did nothing but be in range?
If this is happening, then I would quietly ask you to take a step back. Turn off the television, shut down the computer. They, and the crises, will still be there. Go do something else, now.
—Find a distraction and allow it to distract you. Pick up some unfinished work. Go for a walk and pay attention to every detail, even the ones that remind you of Topic A; this is about coping, not pretending it’s not there.
—Read, watch a movie, put on some music. It doesn’t have to be “happy.” This is what catharsis is all about, and why there’s been a word for it for so long.
—Talk to someone about something else that matters to both of you. Or, perhaps better, talk to someone you care about who’s also stressed — I doubt you’ll have much trouble finding someone — about how you both feel. Talk each other down. If you need to hug or cry, let it roll. In this hour, the trolls of damned-lie stoicism have no claim on your soul.
I am not asking anyone to stop assisting with relief efforts of any kind. Was that understood? Good.
All this assumes that you or yours are dealing with the effects of “ordinary” stress. If something more serious is going on — deep, unrelievable grief or depression — find counseling, sooner, not later.
Unfortunately, stress doesn’t end with the event. The present crises have already created a great number of people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and there will be more, not all of them direct victims. (One powerful reason for taking time out now is to avoid being in this group.) Most of you will be aware of PTSD; dealing with it is beyond my scope here. Here is one source, with specific observations on the Here and the Now. (Yes, it’s from a Federal agency. If that bothers you, there are many other sources.)