Let us tell you a story.
Sarah was a single mother living in New Orleans, happily with her daughter.
But one day, a hurricane hit her city badly. She wanted to protect her daughter, and to do this; she decided to evacuate the city as soon as possible.
But to her misfortune, her car broke down.
Soon the hurricane hit, and she had to face it in her home with her daughter. Her house was quickly flooded, forcing them to take shelter over the roof of their house for days, waiting for rescue, without food and water.
Amidst no water and food, Sarah was struggling for survival. But as a nurse, she protected her daughter and ensured her safety. She didn’t lose hope the entire time.
And, finally, they were rescued.
The storm took everything Sarah had. Her house, her life, her city, and her mental well-being. But she was resilient to start everything again to help her daughter get a better life.
Sarah then worked hard and became a community advocate for disaster preparedness, spreading awareness about what natural disasters can take away and how to combat the aftermath of the disaster.
This is how Sarah survived the devastating Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Stories like this send chills down our spine.
According to World Health Organisation, disaster means an episode that alters the usual course of events and results in a degree of suffering that surpasses the affected community’s ability to adjust.
So when a natural disaster hits a community, it causes people to lose property, lives, and livelihood. The repercussions of these natural disasters are not only physical but also mental. Even after the disaster has ended, it leaves behind a deep emotional scar among the survivors. Also, it is very challenging to prepare for a natural disaster mentally.
Before learning more about mental health and natural disaster, let’s understand what losses one has to face during a natural disaster.
What are the losses incurred during a natural disaster?
Whenever a natural disaster hits, it affects all the prospects of an individual’s life, and the aftermath is challenging. Disasters take away many people’s lives, including loved ones, family, and friends. Physical health also gets affected due to injury or illness. Properties are destroyed, including establishments, businesses, and homes.
The worst part of natural disasters is they force displacement. People are forced to leave their original places and take shelter elsewhere, either temporarily or permanently. On top of this, there are financial or economic losses due to the loss of business, jobs, and goods. All this might be a horrific experience that ultimately affects the mental health of people who are victims of it. Mental health after natural disasters takes a toll.
Psychological trauma, like PTSD, depression, and stress, are effects of natural disasters on mental health. Even if the economic and financial status grows, the terrible memory of such horrific disasters can make a home in people’s minds, causing long-term mental health issues.
How can you mentally prepare for a natural disaster?
Before a natural disaster, a lot of mental pressure and stress can surround you and in such cases, it’s important to keep your emotions and mental health regulated. It’s normal to be tense during these times. Understanding mental health and natural disasters is essential. Here are some of the ways on how can you mentally prepare for a natural disaster:
1. First of all, there’s no benchmark to react or recover “right”
Whenever there’s a hit of any natural disaster, it is sudden and may take out your normalcy. Your normal coping skills might not seem to work. The emotional reaction in such situations varies from person to person. Instead, your flight and fight reaction directs you toward a certain way to react. The essential thing to be understood is that you don’t have to worry about bouncing back; instead, you must work towards transforming your life.
Whatever you are comfortable with, go for it. You don’t have to follow specific coping mechanisms for your mental health after natural disasters if you are happy with your actions. Everything takes time; just believe in yourself and have faith. Accepting your feelings and acknowledging your mental state will help you reach a better place.
2. There are no clean ends; expect uncertainties
The endings of natural disasters are not certain. There can be various unexpected turns in situations even after the disasters have ended. This causes a lot of anxiety. Because we look for certainty at the end of something to start something new and coping with mental health after natural disasters can be challenging.
In such cases, you must be ready to expect uncertainty and not think of worst-case scenarios or hurry into something without complete knowledge.
3. If there’s time, plan ahead
Planning is like a light at the end of the tunnel. If you have the time, plan for the upcoming events. Planning can be about healthcare needs, food supplies, communication, and contacts with hospitals, pharmacies, police, and other sectors in case of any emergencies.
Learn about the disasters, and expand your knowledge about the possible risks and damage caused by them. This will help you stay calm and make better decisions with time this is an effective way to enhance mental health after natural disasters.
4. Try AIMing while preparing
‘I can’t cope’; ‘We are going to get hurt’, racing hearts, and feeling stressed and frustrated are the thoughts and feelings that will consume you when you prepare for any disaster. In such a case, there’s a technique called AIM suggested by psychologists, which includes;
While preparing for a natural disaster, the psychological impact of natural disasters may include feeling stressed and anxious. The government and the media also circulate warnings and pictures to let us understand the severity of the disaster. All this can get overwhelming. The best you can do is accept your feelings.
Don’t fight it. It’s normal. If you get nervous about your feelings, there’s a chance that you will panic more. You’ll find ways to regulate your emotions better if you understand them. Commonly, people might advise you that you shouldn’t panic or get stressed cause it will cause more trouble. But it’s okay if you are anxious. Just find ways to keep yourself calm to make essential when it comes to mental health and natural disasters.
What am I feeling? Is it adding to my stress? Am I jumping to conclusions? These are some questions you can ask yourself to identify your feelings. Racing hearts, high blood pressure, low appetite, tensed muscles, nausea, headaches, and insomnia are some physical symptoms you can undergo when you are tense about any catastrophe.
These symptoms can lead to negative thoughts and other mental health issues. If you identify your symptoms and understand mental health and natural disasters, you can find ways to calm yourself down and feel better.
After acknowledging your feelings, you can work towards managing them. There are varied relaxation techniques that you can practice, like deep breathing and chanting positive affirmations to yourself. Inhale and exhale slowly, and try calming yourself down.
Phrases like ‘I am okay’ and ‘everything will get better’ will help your mind shift from negative to positive thoughts.
We know it is easier said than done because thinking straight and understanding your feelings in such a stressful situation is challenging. But you can give it a try. You can also help others, support them mentally, and aware them of mental health and natural disasters.
During a disaster, it’s about togetherness with the people around you. Being selfish, cause it’s the end, can be harmful cause you might feel lonely. Being with your friends and family will help you think better and make the best of the situation.
What thoughts you should avoid during a natural disaster:
1. ‘I cannot control anything; it’s an act of god.’
During a natural disaster is normal to feel helpless cause it’s a situation where you can’t do anything. But one thing you should try avoiding is giving up, thinking it’s an act of god. Indeed, you cannot change the storm’s course, but by following disaster management guidelines, you can save yourself and your family. If you follow the protective measures to understand mental health and natural disasters, it will aid you in feeling more in control of the situation and less anxious.
2. ‘I have to follow others’
A natural disaster can make you feel anxious, and you might panic and try to follow what others are doing. It’s normal to feel that way. But try calming yourself down. Think of ways that can benefit you and help you understand mental health and natural disasters. Take the lead if you can. Do what you are comfortable with; it will give you control over the situation.
3. ‘I don’t feel like the disaster is real’
When you have never experienced a natural disaster, it is normal to feel that it is unreal. You might not believe that something worse might happen. It is difficult to imagine the panic and the fear of the situation. This brings a sense of disbelief in the complete situation. Keep your mind calm and believe whatever happens is real and needs a sensible response.
4. ‘My government will save me.’
This is a very common thought during disasters that the government, modern technology, and emergency services will help you and prevent the disaster from happening. This false sense of security prevails in our minds because we feel like we are safer homes and amidst better security. Though you’ll be given protection, resources, and awareness about mental health and natural disasters, you shouldn’t think you have nothing to do. You must believe the situation is serious and take the necessary steps.
How does natural disasters affect mental health?
Disasters are a strain on your mental health. Amidst these challenging times, you might feel tense, frustrated, and helpless. Depression and trauma are the common mental health issues seen in the aftermath of any disaster. Here are some of the mental health issues you might face after the natural disaster has ended.
The foremost psychological impact of natural disasters that hits your mind is the shock from the event. Trauma develops around the situation, and you might even get a flashback of the disaster. Trauma is an emotional response to something distressing and unpleasant. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a type of trauma that develops after a natural disaster.
The next psychological impact of natural disasters is, there’s a feeling of numbness, and your mind might be unable to comprehend the loss incurred. A natural disaster can take away many lives and properties, and survivors must start a new life. This loss causes pain and stress for a long time. Grief is the process of adjusting to the loss of a close relationship where there is attachment and love. The feelings of grief get better with time, but for some, it may not improve even after a long time has passed.
The third and most prolonged psychological impact of natural disasters is depression. About 5.8% to 54.0% of adults and from 7.5% to 44. 8% of children find themselves depressed after any kind of natural disaster. Depression after disasters can be due to the loss of loved ones, grief, stress, anxiousness, loss of property and livelihood, fear, injury, bereavement during the disaster, loss of job, degraded financial condition, and lack of education.
What is survival guilt, and how to cope with it?
“Why not me” You might have heard people saying that after they have survived a natural disaster or any traumatic event where others died especially their loved ones. This feeling is known as survival guilt, which is another adverse psychological impact of natural disasters.
This is generally caused due to the emotions of shame, guilt, and helplessness after a traumatic event. The people undergoing survival guilt blame themselves as to why didn’t they lose their life and others did. They think about what they could have done and failed, resulting in this. Even if there was nothing in their hand, they completely made it their mistake.
Symptoms of survival guilt:
- constant flashbacks of the traumatic event,
- frequent self-blame,
- feeling irritated and angry,
- depression and anxiety,
- trouble moving past the traumatic event,
- self-harm and suicidal thoughts.
Ways to cope with it:
Coping with survival guilt can be a challenging time. Spending time with your family and expressing your emotions to them or not being hard on yourself or taking professional help from mental health professionals can help you cope with it. Here are some of the ways to cope with survival guilt:
- Try talking to people, especially your close ones. Tell them how you are feeling and express your concerns. Expressing your emotions will help you feel light in the heart.
- Allow yourself to feel the emotions that you are going through. Don’t invalidate your feelings. Whatever you feel is normal, and you will find ways to cope.
- Try not to isolate yourself. In these conditions, spending time with your friends and family is best.
- Talk to a professional if you see the symptoms getting worse. They will help you better understand your emotions and create a treatment plan. Don’t avoid your symptoms.
What are the different emotional phases during a disaster?
Disasters can affect your mental health before hitting, during the disaster, and after it has ended. There are various phases of a disaster that are based on people’s reactions. These phases depict what are the effects of disasters on your mental health.
1. Pre-Disaster Phase
The psychological impact of natural disasters can be profound when a disaster strikes without warning or with ample notice. The sudden onset of vulnerability and loss of control can leave one feeling adrift, while guilt and self-blame can be a heavy burden to bear.
This turbulent phase can last mere moments in the wake of or stretch out over months.
2. Impact Phase
When disasters are slow and pose little threat, people react differently compared to rapid, life-threatening ones. Shock and disbelief are the first psychological impact of natural disasters.
People panic a lot in this situation. Initially, people get confused and can’t believe what’s happening, but then they focus on saving their own themselves and their loved ones.
3. Heroic Phase
One could consider the heroic phase to be a typical human reaction to a disaster. When a crisis strikes, people frequently have intense empathy for those who are suffering and a desire to assist in any way they can.
This can result in actions of compassion and kindness that are genuinely heroic. They help with shelter, food, and other basic life necessity. There’s a sense of unity and togetherness among the people during this phase.
4. Disillusionment Phase
As people go through a disaster, they gradually discover that the help they’re getting has its limits. They may get extremely depressed and anxious as a result. They can start behaving in undesirable ways, including constantly feeling exhausted or using drugs or alcohol.
And they could feel alone when they don’t receive the assistance they require. This could continue for weeks, months, or even years. Some events, such as the disaster’s anniversary, can resurrect all those emotions and make matters worse.
5. Reconstruction Phase
They eventually begin to feel like they are improving. While still grieving their losses, they begin to take control of rebuilding their lives and adjusting to a new way of life. This can last for months or even years, especially if the disaster is particularly catastrophic. The phase of reconstruction is this.
What is mental coping strategies in natural disasters?
Coping with disasters takes a lot of time. Since there is a huge loss of lives and properties, it becomes difficult for your mental health to cope with its aftereffects. Disasters can cause prolonged stress or PTSD or any mental health issues. To stand up and start again requires a lot of courage. Here are some coping skills to enhance your mental health during a period of natural disaster:
The best way to cope with the psychological impact of natural disasters is by talking about it. Talk about your emotions and feelings with someone you trust and love, or even you can try taking therapy to talk about your concerns with a professional. If you acknowledge your feelings, you’ll be able to understand and regulate them better.
2. Reach out to friends and family
Family and friends can help you the most during coping with the psychological impact of natural disasters. They can help you start your life again. Spending time with them will take your mind off the negative thoughts, and you can focus on some other things to feel better. We know that it takes time to talk to people; try it at your own pace.
Since you have suffered such emotional and physical loss, it’s time you need to work toward your self-care. You can try many self-care activities that can help you both mentally and physically. You can start by journaling, eating properly, getting adequate sleep, and spending time in nature or going for walks to feel better and cope with the psychological impact of natural disasters.
4. Limit the news relating to disasters
Media affects our minds a lot. Even though the disaster has ended, the media and the news keeps circulating their news around it. Though it is helpful to spread awareness about any upcoming risks, it can be kind of triggering if you witness the pictures of the disaster. It’s better to keep away from such news for a while unless it’s something important.
5. Find something engaging to do
In all this, the best thing you can do is start engaging in something you love. This will help you stay distracted from the negative feelings, and learning something new will help release dopamine and make you happy. After disasters, nothing seems enjoyable; take your time looking out for things that make you feel light or relaxed.
6. It’s a slow process, don’t hurry
Once a disaster ends, we start thinking of settling down as soon as possible. Don’t be hard on yourself; try to make things right within a day. Everything takes time. Give yourself that time. If you overexert yourself, you will feel stressed and frustrated. You might compare yourself with others and feel helpless. To avoid this psychological impact of natural disasters, always remember that you are doing your best and will reach your desired goal.
Disasters hit the community as a whole, and lots of people suffer. In this, to make yourself feel better and to distract yourself, you can try and help others who are in need. This will help you develop a positive attitude toward the situation. Help people build their homes, spread awareness, and spend time with your community. This will help you emotionally and help you cope psychological impact of natural disasters.
8. Avoid sedatives
Depression, anxiety, and stress are some of the common psychological impacts of natural disasters, and you might sometimes want to escape those feelings to feel better. In such a situation, it is normal that our minds turn towards unhealthy coping mechanisms like drinking, smoking, or drugs. These might give you instant relief, but in the bigger picture, they will drastically affect your physical and mental health. Try avoiding any kind of sedatives, you can also talk to any mental health professional to feel better.
9. Connect to social support groups
Social groups and communities are also a great way to cope with the psychological impact of natural disasters and help you express your feelings better. You can find people who have gone through such events, and you can learn a lot from their stories. This is also a great way to spread awareness about how mental health issues arise after any traumatic event. This will help you enhance your mental health by keeping you calm and relaxed.
10. A schedule might help
Disasters tend to take away your fixed schedule, and you might feel out of control. At a point, it might become very difficult to even start a schedule again. You might not have the energy to do it. It’s normal to feel that way. If you want to start a schedule, start one at a time. Be comfortable with it, and then make it a habit. You can set your schedule where you can practice self-care activities, enhance your coping skills against the psychological impact of natural disasters and start a new fresh life.
Everyone needs to understand the different aspects of mental health and disaster. Even if were not a part of the traumatic event, we can try to make others feel better. Knowledge about mental health and disaster is important because, disasters can cause a lot of different mental health issues, like grief, depression, stress, anxiety, and PTSD, and it is a challenging time, especially for people who are already suffering from mental health issues. Children and the elderly are more prone to physical and mental issues and understanding their aspect of mental health and natural disasters is very important.
Various coping techniques against the psychological impact of natural disasters can be practiced to feel better, but if the symptoms still prevail, it is best to take help from a professional. They can better understand your situation and give you a proper treatment plan. If you want to get the advantages of therapy from your home, many online platforms might help you; click here to know more about them.
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