62017Nov
How the Stress of a Natural Disaster Can Affect Mental Health

How the Stress of a Natural Disaster Can Affect Mental Health

A sudden natural disaster like a hurricane, tornado or flood can turn your entire life upside down. Victims of natural disasters must endure some of the most unimaginably distressing situations anyone can think of, including being forced from their homes, being trapped without supplies or even losing all their possessions. With so much fear and uncertainty lining the long road to recovery, it’s no wonder why those who are dealing with the stress of a disaster may end up suffering from mental stress and trauma. If you’re the victim of a natural disaster, here’s how you can recognize your own mental trauma and learn to manage it healthily.

Common Reactions to a Disaster

When a disaster takes most or all of your possessions, home and livelihood, you may experience grief-like symptoms. While many attempt to discredit their grief by downplaying their loss, these feelings are very real and completely valid reactions to a sudden, large-scale disaster. Victims commonly experience the five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Some may even feel:

  • Numbness
  • Confusion or difficulty focusing
  • Helplessness
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Physical pains like headaches or back pain
  • Nightmares or flashbacks
  • Sudden bouts of crying
  • Changes in appetite
  • Trouble sleeping

It’s important to recognize that every reaction is valid and warranted. As a victim of a natural disaster, you are suffering a loss and responding accordingly.

Healthy Coping Techniques

All the emotions that accompany a disaster can easily overwhelm you, and you may adopt unhealthy mental and emotional habits as a result. Bottling up your trauma or turning to unhealthy or negative habits can cause even worse psychological damage in the long run. Utilize healthy emotional coping methods like these to process and release your trauma.

  • Give the news a break – Watching or reading information about the disaster will only serve to re-traumatize you. Turn off the television and put the computer away.
  • Talk to loved ones – Friends and family are excellent outlets for pent-up stress. They’ll help validate your emotions and may help devise solutions to your problems.
  • Make a to-do list – All the necessary tasks that must be done following a disaster can quickly overwhelm you, compounding feelings of stress and panic. Make a to-do list of all the most important tasks and focus on only one at a time. You’ll feel good about checking off tasks and will accomplish the most vital things first.
  • Care for yourself – Scrambling around after a disaster without a break to take care of yourself will only weigh you down. Take the time to eat right, exercise, sleep and indulge a hobby to ensure you can care for yourself and your loved ones.
  • Help out – Volunteering your time to relief organizations, donating blood or supplies or even making care packages for other victims can help you feel in control of an uncontrollable situation.
  • Ask for help – If you find that you cannot process or handle your emotions, seek out a mental health professional. Joining support groups can also help you feel validated by people who understand what you have been through.

Healing and Moving Forward with St. Hope Foundation

Your mental health is just as important as your physical well-being following a disaster. Consider finding a trusted mental health professional following your physical exam at St. Hope Foundation. Experiencing kind, compassionate care in all aspects of your health can promote healing following a natural disaster. Our physicians and nurse practitioners will offer you gentle, dedicated attention from the moment you enter to the moment you leave. Contact us online or call 713.778.1300 to schedule your physical checkup today!

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Rodney Goodie is founder and chief executive officer of St. Hope Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to medical care, pharmacy, clinical research and dental care.

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