WTVY Hurricane Center -> Cleaning Up -> Recovering Emotionally
Your own and your family's emotional care and recovery are just as important as rebuilding a home and healing physical injuries. You may be surprised at how you and others may feel after a disaster. Disasters can stir up many different feelings and thoughts. People may experience fear concerning their safety or that of a loved one, shock, disbelief, grief, anger and guilt. Memory problems, anxiety and/or depression are also possible after experiencing a disaster.
Disasters are upsetting experiences for everyone involved. Children, senior citizens, people with disabilities and people for whom English is not their first language are especially at risk. Children may become afraid and some elderly people may seem disoriented at first. People with disabilities may require additional assistance. It is important to let children and elderly people know that they are safe and that you will help them find a safe place to stay. It is important that you try to talk with them in a calm way.
Understand Disaster EventsEveryone who sees or experiences a disaster is affected by it in some way.It is normal to feel anxious about your own safety and that of your family and close friends.Profound sadness, grief, and anger are normal reactions to an abnormal event.Acknowledging your feelings helps you recover.Focusing on your strengths and abilities helps you heal.Accepting help from community programs and resources is healthy.Everyone has different needs and different ways of coping.It is common to want to strike back at people who have caused great pain.
Children and older adults are of special concern in the aftermath of disasters. Even individuals who experience a disaster “second hand” through exposure to extensive media coverage can be affected.
Contact local faith-based organizations, voluntary agencies, or professional counselors for counseling. Additionally, FEMA and state and local governments of the affected area may provide crisis counseling assistance.
Recognize Signs of Disaster Related Stress
When adults have the following signs, they might need crisis counseling or stress management assistance:Difficulty communicating thoughts.Difficulty sleeping.Difficulty maintaining balance in their lives.Low threshold of frustration.Increased use of drugs/alcohol.Limited attention span.Poor work performance.Headaches/stomach problems.Tunnel vision/muffled hearing.Colds or flu-like symptoms.Disorientation or confusion.Difficulty concentrating.Reluctance to leave home.Depression, sadness.Feelings of hopelessness.Mood-swings and easy bouts of crying.Overwhelming guilt and self-doubt.Fear of crowds, strangers, or being alone.
Easing Disaster-Related Stress
The following are ways to ease disaster-related stress:Talk with someone about your feelings - anger, sorrow, and other emotions - even though it may be difficult.Seek help from professional counselors who deal with post-disaster stress.Do not hold yourself responsible for the disastrous event or be frustrated because you feel you cannot help directly in the rescue work.Take steps to promote your own physical and emotional healing by healthy eating, rest, exercise, relaxation, and meditation. Maintain a normal family and daily routine, limiting demanding responsibilities on yourself and your family.Spend time with family and friends.Participate in memorials.Use existing support groups of family, friends, and religious institutions.Ensure you are ready for future events by restocking your disaster supplies kits and updating your family disaster plan. Doing these positive actions can be comforting.
When disaster strikes, a child's view of the world as a safe and predictable place is temporarily lost. Children become afraid that the event will happen again and that they or their family may be injured or killed. The damage, injuries and deaths that can result from an unexpected or uncontrollable event are difficult for most children to understand. How a parent or other adult reacts to a child following any traumatic event can help children recover more quickly and more completely. Children of different ages react in different ways to trauma. Your local Red Cross can give you information about helping children cope with disaster and trauma.
Disasters can leave children feeling frightened, confused, and insecure. Whether a child has personally experienced trauma, has merely seen the event on television, or has heard it discussed by adults, it is important for parents and teachers to be informed and ready to help if reactions to stress begin to occur.
Children may respond to disaster by demonstrating fears, sadness, or behavioral problems. Younger children may return to earlier behavior patterns, such as bedwetting, sleep problems, and separation anxiety. Older children may also display anger, aggression, school problems, or withdrawal. Some children who have only indirect contact with the disaster but witness it on television may develop distress.To keep children from feeling that you will leave them, take them with you if you need to look for shelter or emergency supplies. Encourage children to talk about their feelings about the hurricane.If children refuse to talk about their feelings, this may mean they are afraid to relive the experience. Talking to others about the storm in front of children may encourage them to talk. Children who behave unusually for more than two weeks after the storm may need counseling.
Who is at Risk?
For many children, reactions to disasters are brief and represent normal reactions to "abnormal events." A smaller number of children can be at risk for more enduring psychological distress as a function of three major risk factors:Direct exposure to the disaster, such as being evacuated, observing injuries or death of others, or experiencing injury along with fearing one’s life is in danger.Loss/grief: This relates to the death or serious injury of family or friends.On-going stress from the secondary effects of disaster, such as temporarily living elsewhere, loss of friends and social networks, loss of personal property, parental unemployment, and costs incurred during recovery to return the family to pre-disaster life and living conditions.
If you have more questions or observe unusual behavior in your children, which you think may be caused by a reaction to the disaster, contact your local Red Cross chapter, child's counselor or community professional for additional information and help. The Red Cross can also arrange for you to talk with a member of its disaster staff who has special expertise in dealing with disaster stress for more information.
If you have pets, try to find and comfort them. A scared animal may react by biting or scratching. Handle animals carefully and calmly. Pets can become upset and react in unusual ways, such as spraying urine, defecating on floors or scratching/biting furnishings. Since pets will need regular care and attention to help them calm down, try to leave pets with a family member, friend, veterinarian or boarding facility while you are cleaning up your home. Animals are naturally inquisitive and could get injured if they are brought back to a damaged home.Use toys, a blanket or favorite human's unsoiled clothing to comfort pets.Make sure pets are fed their usual diet, and have plenty of water.Visit your pets regularly, speak calmly and take some time out to play with them. Doing so can help you in your recovery, as well.