Staying Emotionally Strong During a Disaster

Emergency Essentials - July 17, 2012

Thinkstock.

We often think only of physical preparedness for disaster - but emotional needs can be just as debilitating. Prepare yourself psychologically by learning the warning signs of stress and shock.

Emotional needs during and after a disaster are sometimes as important as the physical needs. Everyone, from victims to volunteers, has emotional feelings in times of crisis. The Red Cross has been known to send psychologists to help people cope with the emotional distress and struggles that accompany a disaster. 

A common suggestion is to "stay calm" when an emergency occurs. How can you remain calm when terrible things are happening all around you? When a disaster occurs and your personal belongings are destroyed, most people feel the need to blame someone or something. This reaction is an attempt to gain control of the situation by putting it into an understandable or familiar context. This blame is frequently put on authority figures, such as government officials, because survivors believe the officials could or should have prevented the loss. 

When you find out how ill-prepared you are to cope with even minor disruptions in your daily life it can be disturbing. Small things such as the electricity going out or your water service stopping can cause mental stress to you and your family. Sometimes people have unrealistic expectations about how soon their city can get the electricity or water back on, and they can become angry at circumstances that are beyond their control. 

It is important to be able to recognize and detect the signs of stress and/or shock during an emergency. Here are several warning signs that you may experience during emergency situations. 

Physical signs: fatigue, upset stomach, shakiness, dizziness, heart palpitations, clamminess, disorientation, difficulty thinking, memory loss or loss of appetite. 

Emotional signs: anxiety, grief, depression, irritability, feeling overwhelmed, thinking you or your loved ones will be harmed, nightmares or extreme fear. 

What can you do now to prevent these symptoms and help yourself and your family to be mentally healthy during and after an emergency? You can start by preparing yourself mentally now, so that in the event of a disaster it will not be such a surprising and confusing event for your family. You can do this by having fire drills, earthquake drills, and discussing with your family the various emergencies that can occur in your area. 

When you are prepared, you are less likely to feel helpless and less likely to experience stress related disorders. You will remember what you discussed as a family and apply what you learned from those discussions and drills to help you overcome your situation. 

Other things you can do now to help make a disaster less nerve-racking is to pack in your emergency kits items that you use in your everyday life. For your children, you should pack coloring books, crayons, stories, gum, candy, stuffed animals and other useful items. For adults, pack a good book, a brush, razors, soap, playing cards, hard candy, paper and pen, medication, toilet paper and sundry items. These items can provide relief for stress during the times you have to wait for your life to return to normal. 

Other stress relieving items are desserts. You should pack gelatin desserts, just-add-water, pudding, cake, muffin, and cookie mixes, candy bars, popcorn, dehydrated fruits, and fruit drinks. These items may seem frivolous, but they can really make a difference in helping you feel more comfort and peace in an emergency. 

Developing a positive attitude and learning coping and stress relieving methods will help you, not only in times of disaster, but throughout your life. So prepare now--it will be well worth the effort!

© Emergency Essentials for LDS Living, 2012.

© 2014 LDSLiving.com.