Our thoughts and prayers go out to those suffering in the aftermath of the two devastating hurricanes, Harvey and Irma. With our own offices in South Florida, we are acutely aware of the destruction these storms can inflict. We are very fortunate in that none of our team members was hurt by either storm. However, we know there were many who were physically harmed, or sustained severe damage to their homes and businesses.
In terms of Ascellus, we enacted our disaster plan the week before the storm; putting up hurricane shutters at the office and asking staff to work from their homes.
Since all our services are in the cloud there was no loss of ability for us to work remotely and manage the cases. The staff was able to communicate through a phone text office messaging system we have in place.
Every staff member that lives in Florida lost power and some had some damage to their homes and cars; however no one lost his home. Fortunately, the office itself sustained very little damage. Because the office is located close to a major hospital, we got power back on the day after the storm and the internet back on the following day. We are extremely grateful that all our team members are healthy and safe.
Storm Stress and CBT
With the Atlantic hurricane season continuing through November, we are reminded of the cruel force nature can impose on us. Many people going through these storms may be experiencing some of the same feelings as injured workers with chronic pain; fear, depression, and loss of control. Stressing out too much can cause a spike in the stress hormone cortisol and decrease the ability to react effectively.
We thought it might be helpful to share some of the cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) strategies we use with injured workers, to help relieve hurricane-induced stress.
Understanding/information. A key to helping injured workers with chronic pain is to help them understand what is happening in their bodies and brains. We explain how chronic pain is very different from acute pain and cannot be cured, but can be managed. This understanding helps empower the injured worker so he can take back control of his life rather than ceding it to a physician or others involved in his claim.
In much the same way, those in the path of an expected storm can feel more in control of their own situations with more information. Keeping abreast of the latest storm updates allows us to prepare and plan. While no one can control a hurricane, you can at least control how you respond to it. That may include a variety of precautions; such as installing hurricane shutters; ensuring you have plenty of water and non-perishable food, and filling the car with gas. With enough information you can also determine whether to evacuate the area.
Relax. The stress from a traumatic event, such as a hurricane can take a toll on the body. Muscles may tighten – particularly in the neck and shoulder areas; heart rate and blood pressure may increase; some may experience severe headaches, or gastrointestinal problems. The best way to deal with such stress is through behavioral techniques that help relax the mind as well as the body. Relaxation techniques increase GABA, a naturally occurring molecule that creates a sense of calmness.
Meditation, yoga, and deep breathing are among the best. Deep breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing can help increase the amount of oxygen in the lungs and blood, which stimulates the relaxation response. If you put one hand on your chest and one on your belly and take a deep breath, you should feel the diaphragm inflate.
Move. Along with relaxation techniques, movement also increases oxygen and blood flow. It also promotes a sense of empowerment, as you are doing something rather than sitting and becoming more anxious. Simple exercises, even walking are effective. It’s also important to keep the body limber, as hurricanes often require more manual labor than you might typically have. Stretching exercises can increase flexibility, loosen stiff muscles and improve range of motion; strengthening exercises such as wall push-ups and squats can help keep muscles strong.
Think good thoughts. Negative thinking can create a self-fulfilling prophecy. An injured worker in chronic pain who tells himself, ‘I can’t cope with this pain,’ typically experiences worse pain. A simple, but effective exercise we do with injured workers is have them tell themselves positive statements; ‘I can cope with this pain.’ Even if he doesn’t believe it, the brain believes what is being said; this helps alleviate the negative thinking, which ultimately helps the brain deal with pain signals.
Positive thinking helps decrease the stress arousal response. If you are having thoughts such as, ‘I can’t get through this storm,’ turn it into a positive message; ‘I can get through this storm.’ Your thinking won’t change the storm, but it can greatly change the way you cope with it.
Mother Nature can wreak havoc on our psyches, in addition to our lives and properties. But we don’t have to feel paralyzed by fear and negative thinking because of it. Using the techniques of CBT can help keep you grounded and thinking clearly, even in the face of a natural disaster.
Integrated Medical Case Solutions (Ascellus) is a national network of Health Providers in Psychology that delivers cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for chronic pain, trauma and insomnia across the country for the workers’ compensation industry.
Ascellus bridges the gap between mental and physical health to accelerate recovery for our nation's workforce. By connecting the workers' compensation industry with our expert behavioral care and evidence-based treatments, we deliver high-quality outcomes, helping injured workers reemerge with increased strength, purpose and resilience in the workplace.