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Coping With Emotional Distress After a Disaster

Avatar for Gaye Levy Gaye Levy  |  Updated: July 4, 2019
Coping With Emotional Distress After a Disaster

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distressMost people are programmed to handle stress fairly well.  After all, a lesson we learn early on in life is that life is not always fair.  So we go about our day, doing our best to cope and to stay focused on the bigger picture of life.

Alas, all of the normal coping rules and mechanisms fly out the window following a disaster.  At times like this, there can be a massive physical impact to the landscape and to everything considered normal.  Homes may be damaged, the workplace may be destroyed and common services such as water, power and sanitation may not be functional.  Add to this the injury or loss of human life and we are talking about a huge emotional impact on those living through the moment.

Factoid:  In a large disaster, 43% or more of individuals can show signs of emotional trauma following an initial disaster.  This is why the American Red Cross, deploys hundreds of Disaster Mental Health workers to disaster-affected regions from the first moments that the disaster has taken place.

We typically associate the term post-traumatic distress disorder (PTSD) with soldiers returning from the war, but indeed, post-traumatic stress disorder can be any anxiety disorder that develops following exposure to extreme life events that evoke great horror or helplessness.

Emotional Distress After a Disaster

What are some of the symptoms?  The list is long but consider these emotional factors (and I will not even begin to address the physical symptoms:

  • Shock
  • Terror
  • Irritability
  • Blame
  • Anger
  • Guilt
  • Grief or sadness
  • Mood swings
  • Emotional numbing
  • Helplessness
  • Loss of pleasure derived from familiar activities
  • Difficulty feeling happy
  • Difficulty experiencing loving feelings
  • Impaired concentration
  • Impaired decision making ability
  • Memory impairment
  • Disbelief
  • Confusion
  • Nightmares
  • Decreased self-esteem
  • Decreased self-efficacy
  • Self-blame
  • Intrusive thoughts/memories
  • Worry
  • Dissociation

The bottom line?  Intense experiences lead to intense emotions. After a natural disaster you may be too out of it to recognize this but it will happen none-the less.  What you can do, though, is recognize that you may suffer the same consequences from any sudden and unexpected change in your life.  This could  include the loss of loved one, the loss of a job or, as we all fear, the onset of the next great depression.

Two things you can do now to cope later

1.  Build your resilience.  A while back I wrote about 12 Ways to Learn to Roll with the Punches.  Go back and re-read that article – monthly if you have to – and practice this skill.

2.  Be prepared. This should come as no surprise. Identify the risks in your geographical area (earthquake, flood, draught) and have a plan to react if an when the risk becomes a reality. Have an emergency kit ready as well as the all-important family communication plan.

And afterward?

  • Do not be too proud to ask for help.  Reach out and let your emotional state be known.  Yes, you may want to hide under the covers and isolate yourself but truly, your friends, family and even those in outside organizations can help you unburden the load.
  • Do not make important decisions when you are angry.  You may feel that you want to chuck it all and simply walk away from your life.  This is normal and you should expect to have extreme and perhaps irrational impulses.  This is why so many couple split up after the death of a child.  Resist this urge to make a decision that will affect the rest of your life.  There will be plenty of time later when your emotional state is more stable.

The Final Word

You may be asking your self why I am addressing this now when I recently explored ways to roll with the punches so you could avoid emotional distress altogether.  The answer is simple:  from where I sit, things are getting worse globally.  Most of the Western world is in financial turmoil.  Add the possible EMP resulting from solar flare activity, the extreme weather patterns, and dare I say, an election year and all that that brings and well, I am concerned.

Here in my own household we are increasing our food stores and are becoming well armed to protect ourselves and our little home.  We have a get-away vehicle stashed in the city so if we happen to be visiting family or work colleagues, we can bug out and get back home using back roads.

Everyone’s situation is different but universally, the more we understand and anticipate the emotional impact of a disaster, the better we will be able to cope if, indeed, a extreme event changes life as you know it.

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!


Like this? You might also like:

There are many basic supplies in a survival kit that are inexpensive. Below you will find a list of some of these items. Most are less than $20 and many are less than $10. Take a look – do you have these items set aside for an emergency?

Grabber Big Pack Hand Warmers: This is something most people don’t think about. Put one in your car, one in your desk, one in your coat closet, and one in your emergency kit. Never be without portable heat when you need it. These air-activated Hand Warmers keep hands and fingers toasty for over 7 hours.

Adventure Medical Kits Trauma Pack with QuikClot: This trauma kit is designed to stop bleeding and control serious trauma at the scene so more advanced care can be sought later.

QuikClot Sport Advanced Clotting Sponge: A must for any first aid or emergency kit, Quikclot Sport stops moderate to severe bleeding until further medical help is available.

The Emergency Bandage 6″ (Israeli Bandage): This 4″ wide, all-in-one device consolidates multiple first-aid devices such as a primary dressing, pressure applicator, secondary dressing, and a foolproof closure apparatus to secure the bandage in place.

Cyalume SnapLight Chemical Light Sticks: Read all about light sticks at Lighting Your Way With Chemical Lighting.

Emergency Mylar Thermal Blankets (Pack of 10): You will be surprised at how warm these will keep you. Be sure to test one out in advance so that you have the confidence to trust the blanket in an emergency.

Emergency Shelter Tent: The Emergency Tent is a lightweight and compact emergency shelter. It is wind and waterproof and easy to set up and is roomy enough for two people.

Emergency Sleeping Bag: Another low cost item designed to keep you warm in an emergency situation.

Camouflage Nylon Military Paracord 100 Feet: I need to write an article on the many uses of paracord. Pick your favorite color but be aware that different colors are priced differently. Me? I get the color that is the least expensive although I must admit the camouflage is my favorite.

Potable Aqua Water Treatment Tablets: Potable Aqua Water Purification Tablets make questionable water bacteriologically suitable to drink. Easy to use and the water is ready to drink in 30 minutes. One 50 tablet bottle treats 25 quarts of water.

UCO Stormproof Matches, twin pack (50 matches): This is another one of those items most people forget about. Each match burns for about 15 seconds even if it is windy, rainy, or cold.

Streamlight 73001 Nano Light Miniature Keychain LED Flashlight: This small and super-bright light, features a high-intensity, 100,000-hour LED that will last up to eight hours on four alkaline button cell batteries which are included.

Books for the Survival Library: Here are some recommended books for your survival library.

Clara’s Kitchen: Wisdom, Memories, and Recipes from the Great Depression: If you don’t know about Clara, be sure to read Depression Cooking: A Visit to Clara’s Kitchen.

Holding Your Ground: Preparing for Defense if it All Falls Apart: I have not had time to write up my review (excellent!) of this book but I will tell you this. You NEED this book if you care about defending your homestead.

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3 Responses to “Coping With Emotional Distress After a Disaster”

  1. I’m interested to hear more about your vehicle stashed in the city. Can you expand on that concept? Is it a BugOut Vehicle, or a Get Home Vehicle?
    Great post as always!

    • Watch for an article soon. You might be surprised at our choice.

      And just to clarify, this would be considered a “get home” vehicle that would be used if we were in the city (Seattle area) when all heck let loose (and by “heck” I mean everything from an earthquake to riots). We very much feel that our home is safer than the city under any circumstances. Plus, there are numerous natural resources on our island that could help us survive an extended disruption of goods and services.


  2. This is sound advice. Too often do we focus on what to do to be prepared BEFORE a disaster but rarely consider what to do AFTER, especially with regard to emotional coping. Thanks.

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