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Extension > Family > Disaster recovery > Coping with Stress > Trying to Understand and Cope With Disasters

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Coping with Stress

elderly woman looking worried

Trying to Understand and Cope With Disasters

Kathleen A. Olson, Extension Educator — Family Resiliency

April 2009; Reviewed March 2010.

It is normal to feel anxious about you and your family's safety after a disastrous event such as the flooding. No one who sees a disaster is untouched by it. Profound sadness, grief, and anger are normal reactions and acknowledging our feelings helps us recover. Focusing on your strengths and abilities can help you heal. Each person has different needs and different ways of coping, but accepting help from community programs and resources is healthy.

Symptoms of Stress

Here are some of the signs that you or someone close to you may need stress management assistance:

  • Difficulty communicating thoughts
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Difficulty maintaining balance
  • Easily frustrated
  • 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
  • Crying easily
  • Overwhelming guilt and self-doubt
  • Fear of crowds, strangers, or being alone

Managing Stress

Here are some ways that you can try to ease the stress:

Talk with someone about your feelings — anger, sorrow, and other emotions — even though it may be difficult.

Don't hold yourself responsible for the disaster or be frustrated because you feel that you cannot help directly in the rebuilding work.

Take steps to promote your own physical and emotional healing by staying active in your daily life patterns or by adjusting them. This healthy outlook will help yourself and your family, i.e. healthy eating, rest, exercise, relaxation, meditation or other spiritual healing strategies.

Maintain a normal household and daily routine, limiting demanding responsibilities of yourself and your family.

Spend time with family and friends.

Participate in memorials, rituals, and use of symbols as a way to express feelings.

Use existing support groups of family, friends, and church.

Establish a family emergency plan. Feeling that there is something that you can do in the future should a disaster occur can be very comforting.

If these strategies are not helping and the stress signs continue, or you find that you are using drugs/alcohol in order to cope, you may wish to seek professional assistance with your stress symptoms.

Related resources

School success — Builds strong parent-child relationships through education and collaboration.

Extreme Weather — Resources to help you prepare and deal with weather-related disasters.

Family Problem Solving — Successful social decisions bring people closer together and improve future communication.

After a natural disaster: Coping with loss — The five stages of grieving.

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