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Helping Adults Cope with Disaster

Red Cross volunteer helping lady in a shelter

A disaster of any size will cause unusual stress in people who have been directly or indirectly impacted by it. Each person will react differently, and a range of responses to a disaster are normal and to be expected. Emotional responses to disasters can appear immediately, or sometimes months later. Stress and anxiety are typical reactions. Some people feel overwhelmed, while others may be fine during the disaster and experience the impacts later.

When traumatic incidents occur people may experience considerable losses. They also feel out of control. Even the threat of a disaster can be stressful. In time, we will recover and return to “normal” in a matter of days or weeks—sooner if we take care of ourselves. However, it is not uncommon to experience the following reactions:

  • Fear and anxiety about the future
  • Disorientation, apathy and emotional numbing
  • Irritability and anger
  • Sadness and depression
  • Feeling powerless
  • Extreme hunger or lack of appetite
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Crying for “no apparent reason”
  • Headaches and stomach problems
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Excessive alcohol or drug use

To come to terms with a disaster experience, seek support from family, friends, and colleagues. Talk about what you’re feeling so you can work through what happened. Resorting to alcohol, drugs or overeating adds to stress and interferes with physical and emotional well being. Healthy routines are important for recovery. Exercise, keep a journal, structure your time, and keep busy. Being alone is probably not what is needed. Recall other times you have experienced strong emotions and how they were resolved. Do something positive that will help you gain a greater sense of control (give blood, take a first aid class or donate food or clothing). Talk to a professional if the wait seems too long for you or if you need immediate assistance.

Everyone copes differently with a traumatic incident, but sometimes we need help to get through it. Ask for help if you feel overwhelmed, especially when things are falling apart (marital problems, family conflict, problems at work), there is no medical explanation for chronic physical problems, or preoccupation with the tragic event interferes with life activities.

For more assistance, call the Red Cross Disaster/Distress hotline at 800-985-5990 or text talkwithus to 66746.