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7 Ways to Cope With Natural Disaster Stress

Some ways to feel better, even in a horrific situation.

Key points

  • Evacuating can cause a tremendous amount of stress and grief.
  • Natural disasters can trigger past trauma, and so it's essential to practice self-compassion.
  • Finding meaning even in difficult situations can be healing.
Chris Gallagher/Unsplash
Source: Chris Gallagher/Unsplash

If you are one of the thousands of people who must evacuate yearly due to natural disasters, it can be traumatizing. As a therapist and someone who has evacuated several times, here is what can help with your heightened stress level.

Keep up some of your daily routines.

Right now, adhering to your usual routine seems unattainable. How are you supposed to have any kind of a routine right now? Our routines are made of little bits of activity. Sometimes we don’t realize what our routines are until it becomes harder to complete them. Do you usually do yoga in the mornings? Do you stretch before you get out of bed? You can recreate that even if you are miles away from home. Having structure helps us through stressful times, and routines add a little of something from home. Your routine may not look exactly like what you are used to, but any bits of normalcy you can add to an abnormal situation will help.

Be gentle with yourself.

You probably aren’t feeling like yourself. You’re wondering if you will even have a home left or what amount of damage it may have sustained. Understandably, you may have been irritable and snapped at your family. When you are under the threat of a natural disaster, adrenaline kicks in, and you can go on autopilot. You may not even remember parts of the last few days. Be kind to yourself. You are in a highly stressful situation and may say something you don’t mean. Own it, apologize, and focus on the here and now. Beating yourself up about it prevents you from moving forward.

Seek contact with kind people.

You are vulnerable right now, and negativity from others can have an even more significant impact on your mood than usual. Even in an evacuation, you can still seek kind people. That doesn’t mean you are connecting with people who sugarcoat things. You want to talk with people that just listen. Listening without judgment is a gift we can give each other. If you don’t have a positive person to reach out to, speak kindly to yourself in your inner voice.

Take a look at what you can control.

Many things seem out of control right now. You may have had to leave precious mementos, especially if you had to evacuate immediately. You don’t know if or when you can return home. You don’t even know what your home will look like when you return. You may be experiencing deep grief. You may not know when a sense of normalcy will return. Sometimes it helps to differentiate between what you can and cannot control. While we can’t control natural disasters, we can control how we treat ourselves. We also have some control over our inner dialogue. Practicing lovingkindness toward yourself can make a big difference in how you feel.

Limit your news viewing.

You may be clamoring for information on what is happening to your hometown. There is a difference between refreshing a hurricane tracking page every three hours and leaving the news on for most of the day. You most likely aren’t receiving new information, and repeatedly hearing traumatic news can affect your mental health. Be selective about where and when you get your updates, and step away from sensationalism and repetitive news.

Be aware that evacuating can trigger past trauma.

When you are faced with a natural disaster, it can trigger past trauma. A trauma trigger can happen even if the original traumas you experienced were not due to a natural disaster. The feeling of being vulnerable and out of control can seem to bring you right back to your original trauma. It’s important to share your experiences with a mental health professional. Talking through trauma with a trained person you trust can help you process it and possibly decrease its impact. If you are thinking about hurting yourself, please call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 or 988lifeline.org.

Sometimes it isn’t anyone’s fault.

We tend to want to find a person or thing to blame when bad things happen. It helps us make sense of a chaotic world. It’s a challenge to accept that sometimes bad things will happen to us for seemingly no reason. You may blame yourself or your loved ones for things beyond anyone’s control. Feeling this way is entirely normal. But also know that sometimes you could have done everything right, and you would still face this incredible stressor. What can make a difference is finding meaning even in what appears to be an impossible situation. What is something you can take away from this situation that may enrich your life long term? It’s okay if you can’t think of the Copyright 2022 Sarkis Media LLC

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