Coping with the emotional effects of a disaster

February 16, 2017

Probably one of the last feelings you can expect to have after a natural disaster is calm. Whether you're dealing with the aftermath of a tornado, flood, hurricane or earthquake, your emotions are more likely to be a mix of fear and anxiety than complacency.

And that's normal, according to the American Psychological Association (APA). We're rarely emotionally prepared for a sudden disaster. It can leave us feeling stunned and overwhelmed—at least initially.

A first step toward regaining a sense of control is to be aware of how you feel. Then take some of the following steps as recommended by the APA and others:

Talk about it. Express your feelings with others in the community. Realizing that other people feel the same way can be a big relief.

Give yourself time. Allow yourself to grieve your losses. Be patient and kind to yourself.

Return to routines. Eat meals at regular times. Get up and go to bed on schedule. Resume your exercise program.

Seek the positive. Connect with others in your family and the community. Help out by giving blood or donating food or clothing.

Avoid the negative. Stay informed, but don't immerse yourself in news coverage. Avoid turning to drugs or alcohol for comfort.

Postpone making major life decisions. Changing jobs or putting the house up for sale will just add to your stress.

Ask for help. Family and friends can be a great resource. But don't hesitate to seek help from a professional mental health worker if you can't shake feelings of distress or hopelessness.

Additional sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Mental Health America

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