Helping yourself and loved ones cope with emotional responses to Natural Disasters
When we experience trauma it is normal that we may require some level of support whilst we get back on our feet. Responding to and dealing with natural disasters is no different. There are no right or wrong ways to respond emotionally when experiencing or observing the effects of natural disasters. The following information should give you some tools to help you cope with your own emotional responses and assist you to support family and friends.
What to focus on during or in the initial weeks following a natural disaster
- The physical safety of yourself and those around you.
- Involving yourself in recovery efforts of your family and community – this might help you to feel connected to others and hopeful for the future of your community.
- Remain connected with friends, family and loved ones – people who can provide you with a level of reassurance and calm.
- Make small and manageable plans for the coming weeks to ensure you are safe and supported. Set yourself realistic goals and don’t put pressure on yourself to get back on your feet straight away.
- Allow yourself to maintain a sense of normality and routine where you can. This might mean allowing yourself to go for a walk or spend time with friends without feeling guilty.
How to support friends and loved ones
What to do
- Listen to them, pay attention and hear concerns.
- Be there for them, ask what support they need.
- Understand they may feel upset/angry/frustrated, try not to take these emotions personally.
- Allow them space, they may want time alone to process what has happened.
- Offer to provide practical assistance – assisting with packing belongings, preparing meals, moving etc.
- Recognise that we all have different ways of coping and recovering.
What to say
- Remind them that it is okay to feel a mix of different emotions at this time and that there is no 'normal' way to react to these events.
- Offer support without offering 'solutions' and 'quick fixes' to their problems.
- Try not to minimise the impacts, avoid phrases such as "it could have been worse."
- Let the person know you are there for them if they need support.
Understanding your own emotions throughout a natural disaster and times of crisis
- Remember there is no 'normal' way to respond in a crisis or natural disaster, whether you are directly impacted or observing what has happened.
- Some common responses can include: sadness, fear, hopelessness, increased anxiety, anger, shame and shock.
- Some people may experience intense guilt – you may feel responsible for what has occurred. Alternatively, you may feel guilt for not having been impacted and for returning to your daily routine.
- It is normal to feel these emotions. Remind yourself that you are feeling this way because of what has happened not because of who you are. Acknowledge that you are feeling this way and that these emotions will pass.
Looking after yourself
- Surround yourself with people who help you to feel okay.
- Talk to others about how you feel and what you are experiencing.
- If social media and news releases about the event are fuelling your distress, give yourself permission to have a break from these things.
- Try not to engage in harmful coping behaviours such as drug use and excessive alcohol consumption.
- Let yourself have time to feel worried and distressed – do not let all your time feel this way.
- Maintain as much of a normal sleeping and eating routine as you can.
- Allow yourself to transition back into your usual day to day routines.