Tips for Handling Family Stress After a Disaster

— Written By and last updated by

by Ramah Dabbas and Kim Allen

The rain has stopped and the water is gone, so now what? Following the event of a disaster, individuals affected often feel anxious, angry, depressed, confused, or scared and sometimes feel relief, guilt, gratitude, and overwhelmed. These are normal reactions in response to a disaster. Families are not alone in their reactions–many others in the community who were also affected by the disaster could are likely going through the same emotions.

Once these basic needs are met, families can begin restoring daily activities, but stress and anxiety may continue to persist. Here are tips to help cope with stress after a disaster:

  1. Stay informed. Your community’s emergency management team will provide information and updates regarding the aftermath of the disaster and local relief efforts.
  2. Use Social Media carefully. We all know you can’t believe everything you read on social media! It is easy to see false outdated information, so follow trustworthy news sources and limit re-watching videos of the disaster.
  3. Talk about it. Feelings of stress are better handled when talked about. Talk with family members and friends about your experiences and your feelings.
  4. Find Support: If the feelings of stress continue to persist and it begins affecting daily activities, reach out to a mental health or medical professional for additional help.

Children are most vulnerable following a disaster, so be sure to focus on their needs as well. Here are tips for helping children cope:

  • Talk with the children. Just as we feel better telling our stories, children feel better when they can talk about what happened to them. Parents should talk with their children about their feelings to help them cope with the disaster and
  • Reassure children. Children might be scared that things will never be back to normal or that the storm could come again. Assure them that things will get better and that your priority is to keep them safe. Explain that there are people and resources in the community providing assistance and that they are not alone.
  • Validate Feelings. Let the child know that their thoughts and feelings are valid by saying things like “I know, I was scared too” or “yes, going through a storm like that was really difficult”. Validating feelings can make all the difference for children.
  • Watch behavior. Children let us know they are stressed by their behaviors. If you see that they are clingy, acting differently than before, even misbehaving, those are signs that children are stressed. Be mindful that children are observant of their parents’ reactions, and often feel our stress. Rather than scold them, reassure the children that you love them and they will be safe now.
  • Be Age Appropriate. Allow children to ask questions and provide them with honest responses that are understandable to the child.
  • Get Help. If a child’s physical or mental conditions begin to deteriorate, seek medical help.

References:

Coping After Disaster, Trauma

Helping Families Deal with the Stress of Relocation After a Disaster