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Disaster survivors often experience a heightened level of anxiety and stress related to the weather, especially during the peak of hurricane season.

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FEMA flagGUAYNABO, Puerto Rico - One year after a disaster can be a difficult time emotionally for survivors and responders alike. As media reports on the progress and challenges of disaster recovery, the images of destruction can create painful reminders as some relive where they were a year ago.

"After living what we have lived through the last year, it is expected that we may feel emotional discomfort", says Dr. Digmarie Alicea-Santana, a local clinical psychologist who is now working with FEMA’s Health and Social Services Sector. "But if you think your emotional reactions are interfering significantly with your daily life, you should ask for help."

The need for behavioral health services can spike immediately after a disaster but the one year mark can also create a surge in emotions as survivors transition from the initial shock to the marathon of disaster recovery.

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"You don’t have to have had losses equal to other survivors to ask for help", adds Dr. Alicea-Santana. "You lived through something so terrible last year that it’s completely okay to ask for help. The sheer magnitude of the hurricane and its aftermath is enough to cause disaster stress to anyone in Puerto Rico."

The federal health and social services recovery support team made up of FEMA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services works closely with mental health organizations and social service agencies within the government of Puerto Rico to provide crisis counselors and emotional health resources to help those who may continue to struggle with the stress and anxiety of recovering after the storm.

"I think that if there were other places that had the level of disruption that Puerto Ricans endured, the outcome would not have been quite as positive", says Josh Barnes, Recovery Division Director for the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary of Preparedness and Response. "People here have shown a level of resilience that is a model for the rest of the country. They have endured and moved forward in making their communities even better than they were before the storm."

Disaster survivors often experience a heightened level of anxiety and stress related to the weather, especially during the peak of hurricane season. Even a normal rainfall can sometimes cause fear and panic.

"While you may not be able to stop a storm from coming, you can be ready for it", adds Barnes. "You can focus on what you're going to do to protect your family, your home and the things that matter to you. By making sure you’re in the best position possible, you may not experience the same thing you experienced before."

The Government of Puerto Rico’s Administration of Mental Health and Anti-Addiction Services offers 24/7 help through the Linea PAS at 800-981-0023, TTY 888-672-7622. Crisis counselors are also available at Disaster Recovery Centers.

Tips for Coping After a Disaster

Personal Preparedness: One positive way to help manage the stress and anxiety is to prepare yourself and your family by creating a plan on what you’re going to do to protect your family, pets, home and things that matter to you most.

Positive Outlets: There are lots of tactics and techniques to help people cope with stress and anxiety. Finding ways to have positive outlets for stress is important. Finding ways to help calm oneself, whether that's through meditation or prayer, whether that's through finding constructive activities, can help process what has happened.

Give yourself time to heal: The emotional impact of a disaster differs for every survivor. There is no fixed timeline for enduring grief and stress and anxiety after a disaster. You have to go through the process of grieving what has happened, what has been lost, what has happened to yourself and your family and how you will cope with it somehow.

To learn more about resources available to help with the stress of dealing with the aftermath of a disaster, visit FEMA’s website for a complete list of stress management resources.