Parenting Assistance Line - PAL

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Dealing with Natural Disasters

Coping with Family Stress after a Disaster

Coping with Family Stress after a Disaster

When disaster occurs it affects everyone in the family. All family members will react to a disaster in their own way and in their own time. Some feel the need to become involved immediately while others must take a step back and give themselves time. Following are a number of steps you can take to help restore emotional well-being and a sense of control following a disaster.

  • Realize how the disaster has affected you. Explore your emotions and recognize the stress you are feeling. Pushing troubling feelings away only allows them to grow and worsen over time. Watch for signs of stress within your body. Headaches, stomach troubles, rashes, and difficulties with hearing and vision are all indicators of stress. Seek help from a medical professional if these symptoms interfere with your ability to function.
  • Stay away from inappropriate coping mechanisms such as the use of alcohol or drugs. These will only increase the problem.
  • Talk about how you feel with trusted family and friends. Sharing common experiences helps you to deal with and overcome anxiety and feelings of helplessness. Journaling may also help.
  • Focus on taking one step at a time. You can easily become overwhelmed when looking at the enormity of a disaster. Do what you can now and remember tomorrow is a new day.
  • Return to your daily routines as soon as possible. The familiarity helps you regain a sense of security. For displaced families this may be impossible for a period of time. Families forced to relocate face unique problems. Relocation is associated with higher levels of stress, crowding, isolation and crime. Extended family support can help alleviate many of these issues. In time things will get better.
  • When you are able, become a part of the solution. You may not be able to fix the entire situation but there are small ways you can contribute that will help you and your entire family regain a sense of purpose and power. Volunteer with a clean-up team, get involved in community projects and if you feel the need, express your outrage by writing letters, attending protests, and giving donations.
  • Keep your family healthy. Maintain a good diet, get plenty of sleep and engage in some form of exercise every day. Also be sure to add in time for playful activities.
  • Watch your children for signs of stress. They may act out more, do poorly in school, complain of physical ailments, and lose interest in activities that once made them happy. If these symptoms persist it may be necessary to seek out professional help.
  • Call the Parenting Assistance Line: Someone will be there to listen and offer resources to help you through this difficult time.