Disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes, transportation accidents, and wildfires are typically unexpected, sudden, and overwhelming. 

These events disrupt, suspend, and, at worst, destroy lives.

Every year natural disasters kill around 60,000 people and affect close to 160 million people worldwide!

Disasters bring an incredible range of emotions, from disbelief and anger to a euphoric spirit of teamwork. 

 

But long after the skies have cleared and the chaos cleaned up, what remains are the storms within. 

recovering after trauma

Temporary homelessness, damaged personal belongings, and an uncertain future weighs heavily on survivors. 

Understanding how to respond properly and having strategies to cope after distressing events can help you and the ones around you live through the difficult times after a natural disaster but more importantly along the path to recovery. 

 

What To Expect After A Traumatic Natural Disaster

People react to the trauma of natural disasters, whether or not they were directly affected. 

Knowing what to expect can help to normalize your experience and reduce stress. 

The reactions are usually temporary, may vary among individuals, and can fluctuate over the coming weeks. These symptoms will generally lessen during the natural healing process, which takes time, attention, and support. 

Disasters are upsetting experiences for everyone involved. But for children, senior citizens, people with disabilities, and people who may not speak English fluently, disasters bring a higher risk and they are likely to need additional support.

But everyone, even the leaders that others look to during disasters, deserves support in their recovery process.

 

Common Reactions To A Natural Disaster

It is natural to feel stress, grief, anxiety, and worry during and after a disaster. 

And as time moves forward after the initial event, your feelings will change, too. The most common reactions, some of which may be subtle, are: 

  • Physical signs, which may include discomfort, muscle aches, cold/flu symptoms, headaches, malaise, fatigue, and appetite changes. 
  • Feelings of shock, numbness, disbelief, and uncertainty over how to make sense of what has happened. 
  • Increased sense of vulnerability and decreased sense of safety and security. 

Wide-ranging feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, abandonment, fear, frustration, irritability, anger, anxiety, sadness, moodiness, depression, guilt, grief.

helplessness after trauma
  • Behavioral changes that seem to be more impulsive, like taking greater risks, using or abusing substances, and developing sleep disturbances. 
  • Interpersonal conflicts with a spouse, partners, family members, friends, co-workers, colleagues, neighbors, or strangers. 
  • Cognitive and perceptual changes, such as difficulty concentrating, dulled awareness or thinking, confusion, forgetfulness, and intrusive thoughts or images.
  • Changes in social outlook: wanting to isolate yourself from others, feeling detached, or having a lack of interest in people or things. 
alone with emotional trauma

Ways To Cope After A Natural Disaster

Taking care of your emotional health during and after a natural disaster will help you think clearly and protect yourself and your family. Self-care during an emergency will also help your long-term healing.

Whether you experienced a disaster firsthand or were indirectly affected by it, it’s important to take steps to recovery. 

 

Here are a few steps to help you cope:

  • Give yourself time to adjust. Anticipate that this will be a difficult time. Allow yourself to mourn the losses you have experienced.
  • Ask for support from people who care about you. Social support is a crucial component of disaster recovery. You can find support from family and friends, as well as those who’ve also survived the disaster. You may also want to reach out to others not involved to provide greater support and objectivity.
women emotional first aid support
  • Communicate your experience. Express what you are feeling in whatever ways feel comfortable to you. Whether you want to tell your story to friends and family, or you prefer to write or draw your feelings, expressing them will help you process and move forward.
  • Find a local support group led by professionals. Support groups are frequently available for survivors. Group discussion can help you realize that you are not alone in your reactions and emotions. Support group meetings can be especially helpful for people with limited personal support systems.
emotional first aid support
  • Engage in healthy behaviors to prevent excessive stress. Eat well-balanced meals and get plenty of rest. If you experience ongoing difficulties with sleep, you may be able to find some relief through relaxation techniques. Avoid alcohol and drugs because they can be a numbing diversion that could detract from as well as delay active coping and moving forward from the disaster.
  • Establish or reestablish routines. Routines can include eating meals at regular times, sleeping and waking on a regular cycle, or following an exercise program. Create routines to have something to look forward to during these distressing times, like pursuing a hobby, walking through a park, or reading a good book.
  • Avoid making major life decisions. Switching careers or jobs and other important decisions tend to be highly stressful in their own right and even harder to take on when you’re recovering from a disaster.
  • Express as best you can to people who feel supportive to you. This combats internalizing the experience and may promote a greater sense of control. 
  • Above all else, if you feel overwhelmed, ask for help.

 

Fortunately, research shows that most people are resilient and, over time, can bounce back from tragedy. 

 

After a few months, most people can resume functioning as they did before the disaster. There is hope for restoring your feelings of safety and returning to your normal lifestyle! 

At Seeking Hope, we have the unique privilege of training people to provide support to victims on what is possibly the worst day of their lives. We’re here to help you learn how to help survivors and communities rebuild – physically and emotionally. 

The road to recovery is long, hard, and seldom straightforward, but remember – you’re not in this alone. 

Whether you want to help others through crisis, overcome your own struggles, or find hope in the world, Seeking Hope has a solution to help you grow. Click here to learn more about our online training program, CARES, so you can be better prepared when your or a loved one faces a crisis.

 

Sources:

https://ourworldindata.org/natural-disasters

https://www.who.int/environmental_health_emergencies/natural_events/en/