Mental Recovery from a Natural Disaster
Updated: Mar 18
Disasters such as hurricanes, floods, earthquakes and wildfires are so called because they not only ravage the earth, They tear us apart, potentially disrupting almost every aspect of our lives. Many people may suffer physical injuries such as burns, fractures, head trauma and others may lose their loved ones in these disasters. Whichever way one experiences these disasters, it sure takes a huge toll on our emotional and mental health.
Natural disasters hit us hard and may take a long time for us to recover. For many people, recovery may just take the rest of their lives. However, to help us recover fully and get back on our feet emotionally and mentally, It helps to first understand the mental changes we experience during and after a disaster, and how to cope effectively and manage those changes.
Mental and Emotional Responses to Disaster
During a disaster, people experience a range of emotions; from shock, fear, despair, uncertainty, to grief and depression. But following the catastrophic event, we begin to experience a change in our psychology: distorted thoughts and emotions that seem to linger even years after the event. Some of these responses include:
Anxiety disorders, Phobias and panic attacks can characterize the mental health of people who have experienced intense tragedy. The memories flood our minds and trigger a surge of intense emotion that causes the “flight or fight” response such as rapid heart rate, rapid respiratory rate and sweatiness. For many, It is just best to avoid events, places or objects that remind them of that experience.
But this response creates a mal-adaptive behaviour that forms the basis of phobias and anxiety. If not understood and resolved, anxiety may linger long enough to disrupt other aspects of our lives, including work, relationships and family causing us to live in constant fear and despair.
The pain of losing a loved one in a disaster may lead people to adopt defence mechanisms that include blaming others. This causes severe strain on families and friendships that were once a healthy part of our lives.
Not only that, loss of lives, jobs, money or even properties that come with disasters may overwhelm us, disrupting our relationships with friends and loved ones. It is not uncommon to see a once lively and cheerful coworker become isolated and aggressive after the loss of his family in a disaster.
Not only does this further worsen our emotional and mental health but it may also push away the social support we can get from those around us.
Coping After a Disaster
No doubt, the aftermath of disasters leave us dispirited and overwhelmed, it is possible to get back on your feet and regain your strength and joy in life. Here are a few tips psychologists would consider to set you up on the path to recovery:
1. Give yourself time
It is important to know that these emotional and mental changes that come after a natural disaster are completely normal. It is okay to feel fear, anxiety, and pain in the days following a natural disaster, so give yourself time to adjust. There is no fixed time for recovery after this event; It could take a month, two months or six months for different people, Just allow yourself pass through that phase and on the road to recovery.
2. Get Support
It is important that after a disaster, you stay in the company of those you love and who can give you emotional support through this period. Talk to a trusted friend, A loved one or a spiritual leader to help you understand how you feel and what steps you can take to feel better. You may also connect with other survivors to hear strengthen each other.
While this may be the last thing on your mind in the wake of a natural disaster, it is one sure way of getting back on your feet faster. Exercise improves blood flow around the body and boosts our body’s ‘feel-good’ hormones, the endorphins, which lower our stress levels and helps us relax. You may start with less strenuous exercises and work your way up to avoid the aches and pains that come with much strenuous exercise.
4. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness restores calmness and peace to your mind, insulating you from the emotions that come with a natural disaster. Mindfulness techniques, such as meditation and yoga, help your mind to put out the noise in your mind and focus on the little, beautiful things around you. This helps you focus your mental energies on what you can be grateful for, even after a disaster.
Natural disasters sure take a huge toll not only on our physical health but also on our emotions and mental health. It is important to understand these changes in response to disasters and take helpful steps on our journey to recovery.