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Coping with a Disaster

Disasters come in many forms depending on the area of country that you are in. Some disasters are man-made and some are caused by nature. Floods, fires, tornados, hurricanes, snow or ice storms are some natural disasters that can occur.Other incidents can be explosions, white powder incidents and nuclear reactor accidents that are more likely to be man-made. There is an emotional toll that can be more devastating than the loss of home, finances and personal property.

To me, a disaster is a sort of controlled chaos. There are experts who are trained to deal with the disaster and they use an Incident Command System that allows for the most knowledgeable in a particular area to take charge.

You may never be in the situation where you have to comfort someone but it will be useful to know what to do if you are. There was lots of need for crisis counseling and comforting during Katrina and 9-11. Even though you may not be exposed to an incident that is that traumatic, you may also be involved with a friend or family member that has an accident or loses their house to a fire.

The emotional toll that disaster brings can sometimes be even more devastating than the financial strains of damage and loss of home, business, or personal property.

  • Each person sees a disaster through their own eyes. What one person is experiencing may not be true to another.
  • Feeling anxious and scared is a normal reaction.
  • Profound sadness, grief, and anger are normal reactions to an abnormal event.
  • Acknowledge how you feel.
  • Focus on your strengths and abilities. Think about what you CAN do, not what you can’t do.
  • Accept help from neighbors and community organizations.
  • Everyone copes differently.
  • Everyone’s needs are unique.

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.


Signs of Stress Related to Disasters

According to FEMA, 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

  • Even though it may be difficult, you should talk about your fear, anger and sadness.
  • Seek help from professional counselors who deal with post-disaster stress.
  • Do not hold yourself responsible because you could not rescue others.
  • Exercise, eat healthy, meditate and take time to heal.
  • Maintain a normal routine, limit demanding responsibilities on yourself and your family.
  • Spend time with family and friends.
  • Use existing support groups of family, friends, and religious institutions.
  • Learn from the disaster and better prepare in case there is another. Make a plan.

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