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Red Cross Tips on How to Cope Emotionally After a Disaster

Red Cross Tips on How to Cope Emotionally After a Disaster
Getting ourselves and our lives back in a routine that is comfortable takes time

Hamilton, MT, August 5, 2016--Disasters can bring about significant stress. This is especially true if you have experienced a previous disaster. The good news is that many people have experience coping with stressful life events and are naturally resilient—meaning we are designed to bounce back from difficult times. But sometimes bouncing back does not come easily, and the Red Cross can help.

“During a disaster, one of our priorities is to help people cope emotionally,” says Diane Wright, Executive Director of the American Red Cross of Montana. “If people need help, all they need to do is head for the nearest Red Cross shelter—all our volunteers are trained to assess a disaster victim’s emotional state and to call in licensed professionals for someone who is acutely distressed.”

Another helpful resource is the Disaster Distress Helpline, a national hotline dedicated to providing year-round immediate crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster. This toll-free, multilingual, and confidential crisis support service is available to all residents in the United States and its territories. To reach the free helpline, call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to connect with a trained crisis counselor.

When we experience a disaster, we can have a variety of reactions, all of which can be common responses to difficult situations. These reactions can include:

  • Feeling physically and mentally drained.
  • Having difficulty making decisions or staying focused on topics.
  • Becoming easily frustrated on a frequent basis.
  • Frustration occurring more quickly and more often.
  • Arguing more with family and friends.
  • Feeling tired, sad, numb, lonely or worried.
  • Experiencing changes in appetite or sleep patterns
  • Most of these reactions are temporary and will go away over time.

    “Getting ourselves and our lives back in a routine that is comfortable takes time,” says Wright. “Try to be patient and don’t expect to get back to normal right away. Each positive action you take can help you feel better and more in control.”

    Taking action

    Here are some tips to help you cope:

  • Take care of your safety. Find a safe place to stay and make sure your physical health needs and those of your family are addressed. Seek medical attention, if necessary.
  • Eat healthy. During times of stress, it is important that you maintain a balanced diet and drink plenty of water.
  • Get some rest. With so much to do, it may be difficult to have enough time to rest or get adequate sleep. Giving your body and mind a break can boost your ability to cope with the stress you may be experiencing.
  • Stay connected with family and friends. Giving and getting support is one of the most important things you can do.
  • Be patient with yourself and with those around you. Recognize that everyone is stressed and may need some time to put their feelings and thoughts in order.
  • Set priorities. Tackle tasks in small steps.
  • Gather information about assistance and resources that will help you and your family members meet your disaster-related needs.
  • Stay positive. Remind yourself of how you’ve successfully gotten through difficult times in the past. Reach out when you need support, and help others when they need it.
  • If you still don’t feel better

    If you find yourself or a loved one experiencing some of the feelings and reactions listed below for 2 weeks or longer, this may be a sign that you need to reach out for additional assistance.

  • Crying spells or bursts of anger
  • Difficulty eating
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Losing interest in things
  • Increased physical symptoms such as headaches or stomachaches
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling guilty, helpless or hopeless
  • Avoiding family and friends
  • If you need help coping in the aftermath of a disaster, please seek out a community mental health professional or a spiritual advisor, or contact the Disaster Distress Helpline.

    Please seek immediate help if you or someone you know is feeling that life isn’t worth living or if you are having thoughts of harming yourself or others. You can also contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or

    You can help people affected by disasters like wildfires, as well as countless other crises at home and around the world, by making a donation to the American Red Cross. Your gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for and provide shelter, food, emotional support and other assistance in response to disasters. To make a donation, please go to or call 1-800-272-6668. Contributions may also be sent to American Red Cross of Montana, 1300 28th Street South, Great Falls, MT 59405.

    About the American Red Cross:

    The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.