Adjusting to and coping with a disaster takes time. How much time is up to the individual. We share some insights and coping tips to support you.
The 2019/20 bushfires subjected communities around Australia to the unexpected and rapid destruction of homes, properties, bushland and towns. Sadly, it also decimated wildlife, livestock, pets and caused the deaths of many much-loved members of the community. The flow-on effect was job loss and the demise of businesses as people moved away. Tearing communities apart.
For those who have lived through a bushfire, the experience can be shocking, terrifying, traumatic and overwhelming. Being threatened by a fire that is out of control can leave people feeling paralysed and powerless.
Many people assume that a psychological response to a disaster experience is PTSD, but it can also be a grief response in one form or another. If you have suffered from a bushfire experience you can find support and understanding 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 here…and scroll down for tips on how to cope.
In March 2021 Eastern Australia experienced a ‘one-in-50-years event’ when floods devastated regions, some having just recovered from bushfires. The experience brought back memories of disastrous flood events that have struck Australians across our history. Unfortunately, these events continue to befall us. Flooding is often very immediate and unexpected and can lead to the loss of loved family and community members. Its destructive, insidious nature leads to severe damage to property, loss of pets and livestock, the ruination of crops and risks to health as a result of waterborne diseases. It can also involve loss of jobs and income while forcing people to move away temporarily or permanently.
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 tap into our dedicated Have you been affected by a disaster? forum for those who have been affected by natural and human-caused disasters. And scroll down for tips on how to cope.
Droughts can affect people in a myriad of ways. Witnessing the ruination of properties, livestock and infrastructure can be extremely distressing. The negative effects on the environment and animal habitats can also be devastating and may take a long time to recover. Often, the long timeframe involved in a drought can result in a slow erosion of dreams, disillusionment, symptoms of anxiety and depressive thoughts.
It’s also common to develop a preoccupation with the economic consequences of what will occur if the drought continues. There may be a significant drop in income, which in turn may have an effect on one’s ability to provide for their family as they normally would. The decrease in spending money may also negatively affect family involvement in community and recreational activities. Even affording necessities such as petrol, clothing and medicines can be compromised.
Unfortunately, for some people, a drought can also result in having to move away from the community they have grown up in or have reared their own family. The effects of drought can result in many different forms of grief and loss.
Extreme Weather Events
Australians are more likely to experience extreme weather events now than ever before. Often thought to be the result of climate change, the effects can be devastating. As shown by the mega-storms that hit residents of the Dandenong Ranges, Victoria in June 2021, leaving them without power and drinking water for days on end, some even weeks. Having withstood 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.
Terrifying experiences such as this can bring about intense feelings of fear, with overwhelming emotions of frustration, anger and confusion compounded by perceptions of abandonment by authorities. The stressors and losses associated can lead to various forms of grief.
An essential tool for emotional recovery from stressful and traumatic experiences such as extreme weather events 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 if you have experienced a natural disaster
When natural disasters occur, it can take a community a long time to rebuild. Secondary grief, loss and trauma often surface as parts of the community disappear due to the damage and trauma inflicted on local business and populations.
At Griefline, our trained and skilled volunteers can support you during this time and into the future. 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.
In the meantime, here are some strategies to help you;
Connect with each other
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 suffering around you. Connecting with just one other person can help you and make a huge difference to that person’s experience. Altruism has many benefits and focusing on someone else’s pain can be a healing opportunity for both of you.
If you, or someone you know is experiencing loneliness or isolation, Griefline offers weekly check-in calls. Visit The Care-to-Call Project for more information and to register.
Ask who can help you
In natural disasters, the community and surrounding areas will action support quickly. Psychologists and counsellors are often sent into the affected area to begin the healing. Organisations such as Griefline, also give you immediate access to telephone and online support services to help you through the initial processes. Here you can express your thoughts and feelings freely and find ways to help you cope with the emotional impact. Pick up the phone and make a call. Or for peer support head to our online forum dedicated to those who have experienced Stressful and Traumatic Events. Know you are not alone.
Look after yourself
The shock and instability of a natural disaster can be overwhelming, physically and emotionally. It can be difficult to think about looking after yourself in these times. But to manage the stress and emotional roller coaster, try to take the time to rest, eat well, listen to mindfulness meditations and make time to 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 specially selected by the psychologists at Smiling Minds. Looking after yourself is essential to coping with the situation.
Find order in disorder
Feeling some control when the world around us is in chaos can be important. Start with putting some regular routines in place. Wake up at your usual time, eat at regular intervals, do your best to catch up with people or engage in familiar activities where possible. A sense of control can be established by small moments of regular activity such as a morning walk, swim or meeting. An anxious mind will seek structure so build a schedule as a coping strategy.
Let’s talk more
Open up and talk about what is happening by sharing your story and emotions. Natural disasters can produce very intense feelings such as anger and projected anger as a result of feeling hopeless and helpless. We can become grief-stricken or experience heightened anxiety. Talk about your emotions and acknowledge that it is normal to be experiencing a range of feelings. The more we express ourselves in a healthy way the easier it is to repair and recover.
Avoid unhealthy options
When we are emotionally vulnerable and physically exhausted, frightened and panicked all at the same time it is easy to opt for unhealthy ways to self soothe. Alcohol and drugs, comfort eating and oversleeping for example, may feel like one way of managing. However, these coping mechanisms are short term and often create secondary problems. Be mindful of what you are doing and seek healthy ways to cope.
No big decisions
The last thing you need, as you are trying to cope with the fallout and trauma of what has happened is to add to your stress level. Try to limit other sources of stress in your life. Don’t make big decisions right now. The only thing you need to focus on is looking after yourself and those around you. Getting your life back into some kind of normal and grieving for the loss that comes with natural disasters. Avoid taking on too much and learn the art of saying ‘not now.’