Coping with a Catastrophe

When your community has been struck by a calamity or violent incident, comprehending what happened and dealing with the stress that comes with it can be overwhelming. These events bring about an immense amount of stress and anxiety for those directly and indirectly affected. After the tragedy, you may experience some of the following common reactions:

  • Common Responses
  • Disbelief and shock
  • Fear and apprehension about the future
  • Disorientation; difficulty making decisions or concentrating
  • Apathy and emotional detachment
  • Nightmares and recurrent thoughts about the event
  • Irritability and anger
  • Sadness and despondency
  • Feeling helpless
  • Changes in eating habits; loss of appetite or overeating
  • Crying for no apparent reason
  • Headaches, backaches, and stomach problems
  • Difficulty sleeping or falling asleep
  • Increased use of alcohol and drugs

Strategies for Coping

It is normal to have trouble managing your emotions after a significant traumatic event. However, if you don’t handle the stress, it can be detrimental to your mental and physical health. Here are some coping techniques for difficult times:

  • Talk about it. By conversing with others about the situation, you can alleviate stress and realize that others share your feelings.
  • Spend time with loved ones. They can assist you through this tough time. If your family lives far away, keep in touch by phone. If you have children, encourage them to share their concerns and feelings about the disaster with you.
  • Take care of yourself. Get enough rest, exercise, and eat properly. If you smoke or drink coffee, attempt to limit your intake, as nicotine and caffeine can also add to your stress.
  • Limit exposure to images of the disaster. Watching or reading news about the event repeatedly will only increase your stress.
  • Find time for activities you enjoy. Read a book, go for a walk, watch a movie, or do something else you enjoy. These healthy activities can help you take your mind off the disaster and manage stress.
  • Take one thing at a time. For individuals under stress, an ordinary workload may seem unbearable. Choose one urgent task and work on it. Once you accomplish that task, select the next one. Completing tasks will give you a sense of accomplishment and make things feel less overwhelming.
  • Do something positive. Donate blood, prepare care packages for people who have lost their homes, jobs, or loved ones, or volunteer in a rebuilding effort. Helping others can give you a sense of purpose in a situation that feels out of your control.
  • Avoid drugs and excessive drinking. Drugs and alcohol may appear to temporarily relieve stress, but in the long run, they generally create additional problems that compound the stress you were already feeling.
  • It’s important to reach out for assistance when necessary. If you’re experiencing persistent intense emotions or find yourself troubled for more than four to six weeks, it may be worthwhile to consider seeking professional help. This is particularly relevant for individuals who have had prior mental health issues or survived traumatic experiences. Persistent difficulty managing your reactions and resuming your routine after a crisis may be a sign of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a legitimate and treatable condition. Support is available to you. Schedule an appointment with a mental health expert to discuss how you’re coping with the recent events. Additionally, you could look into joining a support group. Remember, it’s crucial to seek help instead of trying to manage on your own. Requesting help is not a symbol of vulnerability.

Other Resources

The National Disaster Distress Helpline (1-800-985-5990 for call or text; for Spanish, press “2”) offers crisis counseling and support around the clock throughout the year to anyone in the United States/territories suffering from emotional distress or other mental health issues resulting from a natural or human-made catastrophe. Via third-party interpretation services, callers can talk to DDH hotline counselors in over 100 languages. Individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing can utilize the text option, or for TTY, use their favored Relay service or dial 7-1-1 and then 1-800-985-5990.