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How To Cope With a Natural Disaster or Crisis

Coping With a Natural Disaster: For Those Directly or Indirectly Involved

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Updated October 25, 2007

Natural disasters have a broad effect on people’s lives, not only affecting those directly involved, but concerning friends and loved ones around the country. Usually, the impact lasts months or years as a community works to rebuild what was lost in the fire, earthquake or other disaster. If your life is touched by a natural disaster or crisis, here are some important ways to cope:

Calm Your Body: When you feel stress, your body prepares to fight or run, and gets into crisis mode. However, this can be damaging to your health long-term, so muting your body’s stress response is important for you physically as well as emotionally. Now is the time to put some stress management techniques in practice. As you read this, you may want to take a deep, cleansing breath or two. This can release tension in your body right away. You may also want to try meditation, yoga or a tension-releasing activity that you enjoy. Don’t forget to get as much quality sleep as you can, and eat well. Taking care of your body can lessen the impact of stress.

Process Your Feelings: If you find that your mind is racing or you feel emotionally stressed, you may need to make an concerted effort to process your feelings. Many people find it easiest to do this through journaling. Writing in a journal about your thoughts and feelings has been found to be very effective with stress relief and is also associated with better health.

Another very effective way to process your feelings is to talk to someone about them. Studies show that those with greater social support tend to be more emotionally resilient in the face of disaster. Try to find a supportive friend to talk to, and rather than just talking about what’s happening, also discuss how you feel about what’s happening. Simply vocalizing what’s going on with you emotionally can help you to integrate your feelings, and can blunt the impact of more distressing emotions. If you don’t have a supportive friend to talk to, or if you’re plagued by distressing emotions that you can’t seem to shake, you may want to speak to a professional.

Do What You Can: You may find that action is a great outlet for your anxiety. Whether your action takes the form of donating extra resources to disaster victims across the country (if you’re not directly involved), or lending support to fellow evacuees (if you are directly involved), doing something positive to help others can help provide you with a sense of control over your circumstances and a release for your anxiety.

Another important direction for your energy is preparedness. If you don’t already have a plan for future disasters, it’s a good idea to come up with one as soon as you’re able. Preparing as much as possible can provide you with a sense of stability and can lessen the impact of any future crises.

Try To Look For The Positives: If you’re directly affected by a crisis or disaster, you may be facing many major changes in your life. Even if you’re only indirectly affected, your sense of safety may be shaken. Either way, you may need to adjust your way of thinking about yourself, your community, and your life.

While such changes can be a source of stress, you may also find them to be an opportunity in your life. You may discover strength you didn’t realize you had, or find that you have a new appreciation for what’s precious in your life. Your relationships may be strengthened as you reach out to give or receive support. You may find a renewed or strengthened sense of spirituality. These things can all be good for coping and resilience.

Read this article for more on factors that contribute to emotional resilience.

Sources:

Bonanno GA, Galea S, Bucciarelli A, Vlahov D. What Predicts Psychological Resilience after Disaster? The Role of Demographics, Resources, and Life Stress. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. October 2007.

Southwick SM, Vythilingam M, Charney DS. The Psychobiology of Depression and Resilience to Stress. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology. 2005.

Schwartz CE, Sendor M. Helping Others Helps Oneself: Response Shift Effects in Peer Support.. Social Science & Medicine. June, 1999.

Ullrich PM, Lutgendorf SK. Journaling About Stressful Events: Effects of Cognitive Processing and Emotional Expression. Annals of Behavioral Medicine. Summer 2002.

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