Disasters not only bring destruction of property and disruption of normal everyday activities, but they can cause severe emotional distress. It is important to understand the effects of disasters on mental health, in order to stay vigilant and best help those around you.
Everyone who experiences a disaster event is affected individually. The most common effects are anxiety and stress. Focusing on strengths and abilities can help you feel less helpless and make a difference in recovery. As you recover, it is important to replenish essential disaster supplies and update your family emergency plans, in case a disaster strikes again. These positive actions can provide comfort in a time of upheaval.
Recognize the Signs of Disaster-Related Stress. Be aware of the possible warning signs:
- Inability to communicate thoughts
- Difficulty sleeping or recurring nightmares
- Increased drug/alcohol use
- Reluctance to leave home, fear of crowds, fear of being alone
- Headaches, stomach problems, muffled hearing, flu-like symptoms
- Depression and/or intense mood swings
- Hopelessness, guilt, and self-doubt
- Changes in appetite, energy, and activity levels
If you experience these feelings or behaviors for several days in a row and are unable to carry out normal responsibilities because of them, seek professional help.
Relieving Stress. If you find yourself struggling with disaster-related stress, know that you are not alone. It is normal to exhibit signs of stress after an emergency event. The following are ways to ease disaster-related stress:
- Talk to someone about your feelings, even though it may be difficult.
- Do not hold yourself responsible for the event or get angry if you are unable to directly help in recovery efforts.
- Focus on your health by eating healthy, resting, getting exercise, relaxing, and meditating.
- Maintain a normal daily routine and spend time with friends and family.
- Attend memorials for closure.
- Stay informed by watching the news for updates from officials, but avoid fixating on the event. The feelings of uncertainty from not staying informed can exacerbate anxiety, but you do not want to obsess over constant updates.
- Seek help from professional counselors for post-disaster stress if necessary.
It is natural to experience stress, anxiety, grief and worry in the aftermath of a disaster. Taking care of your physical and emotional health will allow you to think clearly and react quickly to protect yourself and your loved ones. Self-care is a vitally important survival skill, as it will assist in your long-term recovery and increase your chances of survival.
Have you or a loved one experienced post-disaster stress? Share your recovery story on the Members Only Page.