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A disaster is a life changing and very frightening event, and it’s normal to feel anxiety, sadness and anger and to feel emotionally volatile after the fact. Most people need only time to start feeling better, but there are steps you can take to hasten your emotional recovery. Some people, however, experience symptoms like flashbacks or memory loss that don't necessarily get better in time, and these people will normally need some professional help to get back to a happier normal. Learn more about the mental health challenges that can accompany and follow a traumatic experience.

Physical needs and safety come first. In the days after a disaster or major trauma, you need to take care of you and your family’s physical needs and needs for safety, food and shelter.

In the days, weeks and months that follow, however, physical needs subside - and as you deal with grief, anxiety and maybe even trauma caused mental illness, your emotional and mental health needs may start to take precedence.

Some people who experience, witness or even witness second hand (via media) a disaster or major trauma may experience emotional and mental health symptoms that are lasting and harmful, and so it is important that you are able to recognize the signs and symptoms of disorders like post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a very treatable disorder that doesn’t necessarily get better without treatment.

Coping with Feelings of Anxiety and Stress after a Disaster

People who experience, witness or watch a disaster will often feel stressed and anxious in the days and weeks to follow. These feelings are normal, and for most people, will dissipate in time.

After a disaster, it’s normal to:1

  • Have trouble sleeping
  • Feel angry, nervous, tense or anxious
  • Cry very suddenly
  • Want to stay away from other people (social isolation)
  • Use drugs or alcohol as a way to cope (an unhealthy coping mechanism)
  • Feel fatigued and or have trouble concentrating or have memory problems
  • More

A disaster is a major upheaval and the closer you are to the event and the more destruction (and possibly death) that you witness, the more likely you are to feel emotionally volatile in the days and weeks after the event.

Most people will start feeling better in time, but there are steps you can take to start feeling more like your old self again a little quicker, such as:2

  • Limiting your exposure to media reports on the event
  • Contributing your time and energy to an organization working to help in the rebuilding effort
  • Taking care of your physical well being by getting enough sleep, exercising and eating nutritious meals
  • Returning to a normal routine as quickly as you can
  • Talking about how you feel
  • Looking to the good in your life
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Page last updated Feb 22, 2011

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