Getting through natural disasters

Natural disasters like bushfires, floods, storms, and other traumatic ‘natural’ events are extremely challenging for many people across the community. That’s why we have developed strategies that can help you mentally prepare for a natural disaster.

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Natural disasters
6 min read
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Natural disasters and your wellbeing

Natural disasters like bushfires, floods, storms, and other traumatic ‘natural’ events are extremely challenging for many people across the community.

Australia has experienced some significant natural disaster events over the past few years, including but not limited to:

  • 2022 floods in New South Wales, particularly areas of Northern New South Wales
  • 2019/2020 bushfires, affecting large areas of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and Queensland
  • 2019 floods in Queensland, particularly areas of Northern Queensland.

The immediate physical impact of natural disasters is evident, but an often overlooked aspect is the profound effect on our mental and emotional health. People will have varied emotional reactions following a natural disaster.

While a natural disaster can be one of the toughest experiences to live through, most people eventually heal, recover, and go on to rebuild their lives.

Preparing for and dealing with these events can be just as tough. In facing the uncertainties of natural disasters, it’s important to be as mentally and emotionally ready as you can be.

That’s why we have developed strategies that can help you mentally prepare for a natural disaster.

Common feelings associated with natural disasters

The stress caused by natural disasters can affect our mental and emotional wellbeing in several ways:

  • Before a natural disaster
    • You may experience heightened anxiety as you anticipate the potential destruction and loss of life and property. For example, if you live in an area prone to bushfires, you may experience anxiety as a hot, windy day approaches.
    • You may experience increased panic in the lead-up to a potentially inevitable disaster. For example, you might stop looking after your mental health while ‘waiting’ for the disaster to strike.
    • You may be in constant panic to be physically prepared. You might feel the need to stock up on emergency supplies, reinforce your home, have an evacuation plan in place etc.
    • You may feel overwhelmed by the tasks to keep yourself and your loved ones safe
    • You may experience physical symptoms as a result of increased stress while waiting for a disaster to happen
    • If you’ve experienced a disaster before, you may experience flashbacks and other effects of trauma.
  • During a natural disaster
  • Immediately after a natural disaster
  • Potential long-term effects
One of the images that stuck with me was seeing the fire hose on fire and feeling completely and utterly helpless.

Most people who live through a natural disaster will experience some of these reactions at some stage. If they interfere with your ability to carry out daily activities, you should talk to someone you trust or seek help from your GP or another health professional. You can also call 13HELP on 13 43 57 at any time.

Tips for being mentally prepared for natural disasters

While it’s natural to think about physically preparing for a natural disaster, it's equally important to mentally prepare. By taking steps to prepare mentally and emotionally for unexpected events, you can reduce anxiety and stress. When we're mentally prepared, we're better equipped to handle challenging situations and feel less overwhelmed.

Here are some tips for being mentally prepared for natural disasters:

  • Prioritise keeping routines. Try to keep your life as normal as possible by establishing a daily routine, getting enough sleep, eating, socialising and exercising.
  • Establish daily mindfulness or relaxation techniques to reduce stress and anxiety. You can also try listening to calming playlists.
  • Create backups of important photos and memories to reduce the chances of losing them. You can even create a memory box.
  • Build a strong social support system by connecting with friends and family. If you can’t meet them in person, try organising a phone or video call.
  • Create an emergency self-care box you can access when you’re feeling anxious.
  • Talk to kids about the dangers in a calm and explanatory tone, reassuring them that things will be ok
  • Prepare yourself for natural disasters to reduce anxiety, stress and panic if a natural disaster occurs
  • Consider seeking professional mental health support, especially if you have lived through a prior natural disaster and/or have a history of anxiety or trauma.
  • Educate yourself about the psychological impact of disasters and how to recognise signs of distress in yourself and others.

Tips to help you manage emotionally after a natural disaster

Reactions to a traumatic event are often more intense in the first weeks following the event. These reactions usually ease over time, although you may experience some feelings for a longer period.

Here are some practical tips for managing the stress of natural disasters:

  • In the short-term
    • Acknowledge your emotions and be kind to yourself. It’s normal to feel a wide range of emotions such as fear, grief, anxiety, anger, helplessness and regret.
    • Reach out to friends and family for support and talk openly about your experiences and emotions. Create a safe space where you can express your feelings without judgement.
    • Consider joining local support groups and seek guidance from mental health professionals who specialise in trauma and disaster recovery
    • Practice self-compassion. Healing from a traumatic event takes time and the process is different for everyone.
    • Establish a daily routine to regain a sense of normalcy and control. Prioritise sleep and healthy eating habits to support your overall wellbeing. If this is not possible, think of little things you can do to care for yourself. For example, remind yourself to eat, hydrate during recovery efforts, or have a nap where possible.
    • Avoid drinking alcohol or using substances as a coping mechanism as they can make you feel even more distressed
    • If possible, work on achieving a sense of closure about any unresolved issues related to the disaster.
  • In the long-term

Support Services

If you have experienced a natural disaster, there is help available. Below you can find support services you can go to for information and support:

Online resources

National Support Services

You can call Lifeline's Bushfire Recovery support line on 13 43 57 or text 0477 13 11 14.

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