How do I start recovering emotionally from a disaster?
Although sometimes it gets considerably less focus, you and your family’s mental health and emotional recovery is just as important as rebuilding a home and healing physical injuries. At other places on this website we have talked about stress related to disasters, and how to know the difference between ordinary stress and more serious psychological problems.
In the aftermath of disaster,you might feel ill, uncomfortable, upset, anxious, or irritated. You will want to do things to help yourself feel better as quickly as possible, without doing anything that has negative consequences such as substance abuse, hurting yourself, or otherwise risking your life.
Here are some basic steps that you can take to start the process of emotional recovery:
- Keep caring for your physical needs: Seek appropriate medical care, get sufficient rest, good food, and drink plenty of water.
- Try to return to as many of your personal and family routines (taking a shower, washing your hair, making yourself a sandwich, calling a friend or family member, making your bed, walking the dog, or getting gas in the car) assoon as possible.
- Limit your exposure to the sights and sounds of disaster, especially on television, the radio and in the newspapers.
- Recognize that recovery is a process, not an event. It takes time.
- Recognize, accept, and try to be patient with your own feelings.
- Stay connected with your family and/or other support systems.
- Reach out and accept help from others. You may have been self-reliant all of your life, but now is a time to reach out and let others reach out to you.
- Do something to bring yourself joy whenever you are having a hard time or as a special treat to yourself. Some of these “gifts to yourself” might include:
- Wear something that makes you feel good. Everybody has certain clothes or jewelry that they enjoy wearing. These are the things to wear when you need to comfort yourself.
- Get some little things done. Survivors of disasters tell powerful stories about how small accomplishments, even little ones, help them start the process of healing. Think of some easy things to do that don't take much time. Then do them. Here are some ideas: clean out one drawer, put five pictures in a photo album, dust a book case, read a page in a favorite book, do a load of laundry, cook yourself something healthful, send someone a card.
- Learn something new. Think about a topic that you are interested in but have never explored. Find some information on it in the library. Check it out on the Internet. Go to a class. Look at something in a new way. Read a favorite saying, poem, or piece of scripture, and see if you can find new meaning in it.
- Practice reframing (PDF), which involves being aware of the stories that you are telling yourself (for example, “Because of this hurricane my life is ruined…”) about your circumstances and trying to tell yourself new stories (such as, “This has been awful, but it also presents me with some new opportunities”).
- Be present in the moment. This is often referred to as mindfulness. It is easy during the time following a disaster to focus on the past or on the future, so that we miss out on experiencing fully what is going on in the present. Making a conscious effort to focus your attention on what you are doing right now and what is happening around you can help you feel better. Look around at nature. Feel the weather. Look at the sky when it is filled with stars.
- Play with children in your family or with a pet. Some people refer to these activities as mental fitness (PDF) in which romping in the grass with a dog, petting a kitten, reading a story to a child, rocking a baby, and similar activities have a calming effect which translates into feeling better.
- Do a relaxation exercise (PDF). There are many sources for these, find the one that works for you.
- Feed your senses through such activities as taking a warm bath, exposing yourself to something that smells good to you, and listening to music.
- Use your spiritual resources. Spiritual resources and making use of these resources varies from person to person. For some people it means praying, going to church, or reaching out to a member of the clergy. For others it is meditating or reading affirmations and other kinds of inspirational materials. It may include rituals and ceremonies—whatever feels right to you. Spiritual work in response to disaster does not necessarily occur within the bounds of an organized religion. Remember, you can be spiritual without being religious.
Georgia’s Disaster & Emergency Website. If computer access is possible during a disaster, this should be the first place to go.
The Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) coordinates & maintains disaster response facilities & procedures in the state. It offers up-to-the-minute disaster information.
CBS News maintains this large database of disaster-related websites.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) offers this website for emergency preparedness.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers disaster-related information for individuals here.
Ready.gov provides this section of their website to help individual Americans “prepare, plan, and stay informed.”
Prepare.org offers a very helpful & comprehensive overview of what to do to prepare for disasters and what to expect after a disaster.
The American Red Cross offers this site to help you prepare and get trained for a disaster.
The American Red Cross offers this site to help you get assistance after a disaster.
The American Psychological Association (APA) offers tips for managing traumatic stress in recovering from disasters and other traumatic events.
This Department of Veterans Affairs website details the phases of traumatic stress during and after a disaster as described by the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.