Mental health and disasters: Coping with stress

When you think about getting ready for a disaster, physical preparations — such as creating an emergency stockpile or finding a safe place to stay — are probably the first things that come to mind. However, it’s important to be mentally prepared for a disaster as well.

Everyone reacts differently to stress, whether it’s caused by daily life or by a disaster. But like all preparedness activities, knowing what you’re in for can boost your resiliency and help you cope in healthy ways.

To put your mind at ease, create a stockpile kit before a disaster occurs. A few basics are needed for any emergency, including water, nonperishable foods, a first-aid kit, a battery-operated radio, batteries and a manual can opener. Make your kit portable in case of evacuation.

Identifying and preparing for disasters that are more likely to happen in your community and creating an emergency plan can also help you be mentally prepared.

After disasters, both children and adults can have lasting mental health effects. Common reactions may include difficulty concentrating, trouble sleeping and mood swings. Parents should look out for signs of distress in their children, such as crying, risk-taking or behavior changes.

Our Get Ready fact sheet on mental health and disasters offers tips that can help you and your loved ones heal. They include:
  • Be patient: Mental healing can take time. Allow yourself time to grieve for what you have lost.
  • Avoid overexposure to disaster coverage by the media.
  • Take care of your physical health: Try your best to eat healthily, exercise, wash your hands regularly, get plenty of sleep and drink adequate water. Avoid alcohol, tobacco and drugs.
If you need help with mental stress after a disaster, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration’s disaster distress helpline, 1-800-985-5990, offers support. Counselors can provide tips for healthy coping, help you recognize distress and refer you to follow-up care.

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