Each person's response to a traumatic event is different; people experience stress and
in their own way. Responses to disaster can appear right away or months later. Most importantly though, know you are not alone in your pain and that there is help.
Responses to Disaster
The following are some common responses to disaster:
- Disbelief and shock
- Fear and anxiety
- Emotional numbness
- Irritability and anger
- Feeling powerless
- Extreme hunger or lack of appetite
- Difficulty making decisions
- Crying without cause
- Headaches and stomach problems
- Difficulty sleeping
- Excessive drinking
What You Can Do
The National Mental Health Association (NMHA) provides some tips to help deal with the stress, pain, and anxiety associated with coping with disasters.
- Talk about it.
Not expressing your feelings will keep you from being able to work through what happened. By talking with others, you will relieve stress, realize that other people share your feelings, and know you are not alone.
- Take good care of your physical health.
Get plenty of rest and exercise. Remember to eat well. Avoid excessive drinking and risk-taking activities.
- Take good care of your mental health.
Do things that you find relaxing and soothing. Give yourself the time to grieve. Recall other times you have experienced strong emotions and how they were resolved.
- Spend time with your family and friends.
If you have children, encourage them to discuss their concerns and feelings with you.
- Try to resume your normal activities.
As soon as it feels comfortable, go back to your usual routine.
- Do something positive that will help you gain a greater sense of control.
Examples of this include giving blood, taking a first aid class, or donating food or clothing.
- Ask for help.
If you feel overwhelmed by the disaster, it is not a sign of weakness.
NMHA advises seeking professional help if you are troubled by feelings that will not go away for more than 4-6 weeks. If you are having thoughts of hurting yourself or others, seek help right away.
National Institute of Mental Health
Mental Health America
Canadian Psychiatric Association
Canadian Psychological Association
Coping with disaster: tips for adults. National Mental Health Association website. Available at:
Accessed November 12, 2013.