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Published April 01, 2009, 12:00 AM

Flood throws off routines

Experts say it takes time to regain normalcy after crisis Normalcy. City officials talk about it. Residents crave it.

By: Sherri Richards, INFORUM


City officials talk about it. Residents crave it.

Open roads. Schools in session. Regular work hours.

But it takes time to regain normalcy after a crisis. And when that comes, it will likely be a new normal.

Darrin Tonsfeldt of The Village Family Service Center in Fargo says daily routines largely define a person’s sense of normalcy.

The flood has thrown off everyone’s routines.

“We may not get back to that right away,” Tonsfeldt said. “Obviously, we’re still in the middle of things. There’s going to be cleanup.”

Once the flood crisis has passed, though, it’s good for people to re-establish patterns for sleeping, eating, working and exercising, he said. And it may be a prime time to establish healthier behaviors.

But people need to take time to recuperate, and not be overly critical of themselves as they begin their personal recovery.

“It’s critically important for all of us in the situation to be self-nurturing and take care of ourselves,” said Tammy Christenson, clinical services administrator with The Stadter Center in Grand Forks.

Beyond meeting physical needs, Christenson said people should maintain emotional needs by staying connected to their family, friends, businesses and social networks.

The Rev. Jeff Sandgren, pastor of Olivet Lutheran Church in Fargo, refers to these as “anchors.” He said the fact that local residents know their neighbors and have worked together through a joint struggle makes a difference.

“It’s important to be able to articulate those feelings to people we trust and care about and we know will be there for us in the long haul,” Sandgren said.

Probably the most important thing residents can do to process what they’ve gone through is talk about it, experts say. This helps normalize their experiences and feelings.

“In this part of the country, we’re very good at not being overt with our emotional expressions,” Christenson said. “It’s perfectly normal to be experiencing a whole continuum of emotions.”

Tonsfeldt said people will likely feel more irritable, upset and stressed. Symptoms of depression and anxiety – such as sleeplessness, low mood and worrying – are also likely to occur, Christenson said.

These feelings are justified, she said. But if they interfere with daily life or cause thoughts of suicide, people should seek help from a mental health professional.

Tonsfeldt said most people will cope with the flooding fine.

“We’re pretty resilient as human beings, particularly if we’re aware of what’s happening to us,” he said. “Good mental health is really about having a sense of belonging, sense of purpose and sense of commitment to something larger than ourselves.”

For help:

  • Mental Health America of North Dakota: 211 (This is also the flood support hot line.)

  • National Suicide Hotline: (800) 784-2433

  • National Alliance for Mental Illness: (800) 950-6264

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 235-7311