Coping with a disaster takes time but how much time changes depending on the individual. We share some insights and coping tips to support you.
Natural disasters are becoming more common in Australia due to the effects of climate change. What may have been a once-in-a-lifetime weather event a generation ago is becoming a more regular occurrence now. Part of recovering from a natural disaster is addressing the grief that comes from losing your home, your community, or your sense of security.
In Australia, flooding tends to come on quickly and escalate suddenly. The consequences of flooding can be devastating and far-reaching, affecting individuals and communities far beyond the loss of possessions. As well as the loss of homes and properties, flooding often costs the lives of loved ones and pets, livestock, and livelihoods. Destruction of businesses and farms leads to the loss of jobs and to community members moving away. An influx of floodwater mixed with sewerage can lead to waterborne diseases. The fallout from a flood is felt for years and can lead to complicated grief for those who live through it.
As well as dealing with the physical flood damage, recurring floods can psychologically affect individuals and communities. Queensland experienced devastating floods from November 2010 to January 2011 and again in March 2022. In both March 2021 and 2022, New South Wales also suffered from widespread flooding that destroyed homes, properties and lives. The repeated experience can bring back memories of previous disasters and complicate grief.
Griefline offers several resources for coping with the grief and loss brought on by floods. You can contact the Griefline helpline to speak with one of our trained and skilled volunteers who will listen and provide support to help you recover and maintain your well-being.
You can also share your experiences with others who have suffered through natural disasters in the dedicated Have you been affected by a disaster? forum. And scroll down for tips on how to cope.
The 2019/20 bushfires subjected communities around Australia to the unexpected and rapid destruction of homes, properties, bush
In 2019-2020, Australia suffered through bushfires that destroyed homes, properties, bushland, and towns. Tragically, the fires also killed wildlife, livestock, pets and beloved members of the community who were caught out in the bushfire. In the years that followed, communities suffered the loss of businesses, jobs, and security.
Surviving a bushfire can be shocking, terrifying, traumatic and overwhelming. Being threatened by an out-of-control fire can leave you feeling paralysed and powerless. People assume having a psychological response to a disaster is a post-traumatic stress disorder. But the feelings of fear, anger, confusion, and sadness can also be a grief response.
If you have suffered from the effects of a bushfire, you can find support by calling Griefline and speaking with one of our trained volunteers. You can also reach out for peer support via our dedicated Bushfire online forum.
A drought can be an incredibly distressing disaster to experience. Unlike floods and bushfires, droughts happen slowly but have devastating effects that take a long time to reverse. The effects of a drought on the surrounding environment and animal habitats can also be horrific to witness.
The gradual destruction of land, property, livestock and infrastructure can be extremely difficult to experience, cost families their livelihoods, and test their resilience. In times of drought, communities often disband and leave family businesses behind, decimating towns and causing survivors to feel isolated and lost.
People who experience a severe drought can also develop a preoccupation with financial consequences such as worrying about income and security if the drought continues or happens again. Worrying about money over a long period of time also leads to excruciating compromises – not being able to afford recreational activities for the kids or even necessities like petrol or medicine. The effects of drought can result in many different forms of grief and loss.
You can connect with people who have also experienced the effects of a drought on the Griefline forums.
Extreme weather events
Natural disasters are becoming more common in Australia due to the effects of climate change. When a community is devastated by a natural disaster, it’s not just the weather event that negatively affects you but everything that surrounds it. Moments like the lead-up, negotiating support extended from the government, helping your community, the clean-up, the waiting, and the residual fear can be as distressing as the event itself.
The people of the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria experienced this in June 2021. A mega-storm hit the Ranges, leaving them without power and drinking water for days, even weeks, on end. After withstanding a terrifying night of howling winds and crashing trees, thousands of families endured an unimaginable wait in bitterly cold conditions for essentials such as phone and internet connection, heating, refrigeration, cooking facilities, and drinking water.
Experiences like this can make survivors feel like they’ve been abandoned by the authorities. It can compound grief and create intense feelings of fear, frustration, anger, and confusion.
An essential tool for emotional recovery from stressful and traumatic experiences is social connection. Griefline offers connection through our free telephone helpline and online forums. If you have experienced an extreme weather event, it might help to share your story on our Have you been affected by a disaster? forum.
How to cope after a natural disaster
Speaking to someone about your experiences can help you process what’s happened to you. At Griefline, our trained and skilled volunteers can support you during this time and help you navigate your feelings. We offer a free helpline to work with you in exploring all the aspects of your loss and grief and reconnect you with your own capabilities and strengths. You can call our toll-free number 7 days a week.
As well as speaking to a professional, there are other strategies to help you cope with your feelings after experiencing a natural disaster.
Connect with other people
It may feel like your community is torn apart but there is unity in experiencing the same catastrophic conditions. We know that seeking and accepting resources and support early helps your recovery. Band together and reach out to those
After a natural disaster, it can feel like your sense of community or the community itself is gone or damaged beyond repair but remember sometimes going through a catastrophe can bring people closer together. It’s well known that seeking support early can help with recovery after a natural disaster. It can also help to work towards your community’s recovery. Checking in on your neighbours or friends and connecting with their experiences can help you make sense of your own.
You can also sign up for weekly Griefline check-in calls for yourself or anyone you know who’s suffering in the aftermath of a disaster. Visit The Care-to-Call Project for more information and to register.
Look for tailored support
In the event of a natural disaster, support is usually deployed quickly. Psychologists and counsellors are often sent into affected areas to be there for the community. You can also access phone-based services like Griefline immediately. As mentioned, early support and intervention can speed up your recovery. You can also connect with others who’ve experienced natural disasters on the Griefline online forum. Know you are not alone — there is support out there for you.
Look after yourself
The shock and instability of a natural disaster can be overwhelming, physically and emotionally. It can be difficult to think abThe shock and suddenness of a natural disaster can be overwhelming both physically and emotionally. It can be difficult to prioritise looking after yourself when you’re dealing with grief but it’s important to create care routines for yourself. To properly manage the emotional roller coaster of recovery, try to take time to rest, eat well, try some mindfulness meditations, and focus on recovery. The Griefline resource hub has a selection of self-care resources including tips for mindful breathing, journaling, and meditation (including an audio recording selected by the psychologists at Smiling Minds).
Find order in disorder
When you experience the chaos of a natural disaster, it’s normal to look for order and control in other parts of your life. And doing so can be helpful for recovery. Taking control of the structure of your days is a good place to start. Wake up at the same time every morning, eat at regular intervals, and schedule social engagements when you feel up to it. Try to start doing the activities you loved before the disaster. A structure can help you feel in control of your days and, in time, your life.
Avoid unhealthy options
When you feel scared and exhausted, it’s normal to look for unhealthy ways to self-soothe. But alcohol and drugs, comfort eating, oversleeping, and endlessly scrolling social media are all ways of coping that can create long-term problems that exacerbate your grief. Acknowledge that you have a lot to deal with and be mindful of finding healthy coping strategies for yourself.
No big decisions
In the aftermath of a disaster, it can be helpful to reestablish routines and find normalcy in decidedly abnormal times. Initiating big life changes can be a way to cope with grief but you may come to regret decisions made in such extreme circumstances. Instead, let yourself grieve all that’s happened to you and your community and avoid making any big decisions until the emotional shockwaves have subsided. In the meantime, looking after yourself and those around you who need support can help keep you grounded in the moment.
Resources and support
If you’ve been affected by any natural disaster, know help is always available. Call Griefline on 1300 845 745 to talk to a trained volunteer.
You can also share your experience on the natural disaster forums at https://griefline.org.au/forums/ or access resources on the updated Natural Disasters page of the Griefline website at https://griefline.org.au/resources/natural-disasters/.
You may also find comfort in listening to our Life After Loss podcast, where Dr. Robert A. Neimeyer offers insight into his profound understanding and experience of grief. Robert provides us with an illuminative explanation of traumatic grief, including the connection between grief and trauma, how anger plays a part in our grief response, coping with re-traumatisation and the purpose of meaning reconstruction.
View and download Natural Disasters and Grief fact sheet here