Disasters 

Natural or manmade disasters are often shocking, life-threatening experiences that have long-term repercussions on those who experience them.  In the aftermath of a disaster, people often feel stunned, disoriented or incapable of comprehending upsetting information. People may have lost loved ones or their homes. They might have to live in camps or shelters without emotional or financial support from relatives or friends for extended periods of time. 

The most vulnerable groups affected by disasters and trauma include younger children, single parents, those who have recently separated or divorced, the elderly and anyone with a recent experience with another trauma.
After a disaster, it can be helpful for victims to understand that they are having common reactions to a very abnormal event. While the physical and emotional devastation borne out of a disaster can create feelings of helplessness and isolation, crisis counseling can help those who are experiencing issues caused by disaster-related stress.

Signs & Symptoms

When the initial shock and feelings of helplessness go away, people commonly experience a wide array of thoughts, feelings and behaviors following a disaster. They include:

  • Feeling anxious, overwhelmed, bereft, irritable, or moody
  • Vivid and repeated memories of the event occurring at any time and causing a physical reaction such rapid heartbeat or sweating 
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions 
  • Disrupted sleep and eating patterns 
  • Sensitivity to environmental factors that may trigger flashbacks of the event
  • Strained interpersonal relationships, such as frequent disagreements or withdrawal
  • Ongoing stress-related physical symptoms such as insomnia, chest pain, gastrointestinal upset, decreased appetite or libido, and increased vulnerability to illness

Tips & Recommendations

The reaction to any trauma is most extreme in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, but most people will recover over time. A successful mental health recovery depends on the coping strategies, support and resources that a family has available to them. Here are additional tips for recovery:

  • Take time to mourn your losses and acknowledge this is a difficult time in your life.
  • Don’t rush your emotional recovery. Everyone recovers on his or her own timetable.
  • Ask for support from people important to you. Confide in those who will listen and empathize with your situation. 
  • Find support from others who have survived the disaster. Sharing common experiences can help victims heal.
  • Join a local support group led by appropriately trained and experienced professionals. Support group meetings can be especially helpful for people with limited personal support systems.
  • Establish healthy behaviors, such as eating well-balanced meals and getting plenty of rest. 
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs. They may delay active coping and progress going forward from the disaster.
  • Establish positive routines so you have something to look forward to during stressful times. Join a book club, find a hobby or commit to a walking routine with a friend.

Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTS) can help you manage your feelings and cope with the lingering effects of a natural or manmade disaster.

Additional Resources

APA: Recovering Emotionally From Disaster

NIMH: Coping with Traumatic Events

SAMHSA: Coping with Traumatic Events

 

RELATED ARTICLES

  • Abuse

    Abuse

    Abuse comes in many forms.  No one should live in fear of the person they love or in fear of their personal safety.  Yet abuse can happen to anyone, at any age, in any life situation.  READ MORE

     

  • Childhood Trauma

    Childhood Trauma/Developmental Trauma

    Developmental trauma occurs when a child's sense of safety is violated. Events that can cause trauma include:  READ MORE

     

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

    Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

    Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a common condition that occurrs after someone has lived through a traumatic experience or event.  PTSD affects 3.5 percent of the U.S. adult population, or about 7.7 million people.  READ MORE

     

  • Veterans

    Veterans

    People who have served in the military are especially vulnerable to suffering from trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Those who see combat often witness death and violent events, and feel ongoing fear in life-threatening situations.  READ MORE

     

Featured Therapist

Angie Burch, M.A.
Pamela J. Blawusch, M.A.

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
Carlsbad, CA

I provide a therapeutic environment that allows individuals and couples to explore ideas, beliefs, life experiences, thoughts and feelings that may stand in the way of being who you truly want to be. I can help point out repeating dysfunctional patterns that may exsist in relationships at home, at work and with friends and family.I teach people how to respond in their lives versus getting caught in reacting to personalities and events.


View Profile

Find a Therapist