Your entire world can change in the blink of an eye. Few people ever think they’ll see their neighborhood on a news broadcast, but natural disasters affect millions every year. Thanks to climate change, the problem grows more severe all the time.
It takes time and plenty of TLC to put the pieces of your life back together again. Be gentle with yourself as you navigate the process. Here are five tips for finding peace after living through a natural disaster.
1. Seek Necessary Resources
Depending on how the natural disaster affected your property, you might not have a place to call home for a while. What about your children’s school? Your transportation to and from work?
Your first contact is your local emergency manager. They’re your best resource for meeting your immediate needs for food and shelter. After that, please reach out to the following individuals:
- Your loved ones: Your loved ones deserve to know you’re alright. Fortunately, social media makes it easier than ever. You can mark yourself safe to alert your friends and relatives who also use Facebook. Let people know what they can do to help and how you prefer to be contacted – a flurry of phone calls may or may not be what you need.
- Your employer: If you weren’t at work when disaster struck, you need to let your employer know how it affected you and what arrangements you can make until it is safe to return.
- Your insurance company: First, document the damage and make a list. Take photographs. If you have some from before the disaster to prove the extent of your loss, all the better.
You might also reach out to local animal shelters if you have pets that you could not evacuate on time. They’ll take a description and reunite you with your beloved companion if they locate them before you do.
2. Give Yourself the Gift of Time
Surviving a natural disaster takes time. This statement isn’t fluff – it’s a physiological fact. While some people recover from a shock to the system more quickly than others, you need time for your body and mind to return to homeostasis.
If possible, take time away from work to heal with those you love. The Federal Emergency Management Agency offers programs for disaster survivors that provide housing and medical assistance. The Small Business Association provides aid to those whose livelihoods suffered the impact of hurricanes, floods, and fires.
It’s important to be aware of the potential that you may develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition that’s triggered by witnessing or experiencing a terrifying event. Symptoms can include nightmares and anxiety, as well as uncontrollable flashbacks and thoughts about the event. Evidence suggests that the chances of PTSD and even suicide increase after someone survives a natural disaster.
A natural disaster can shatter your world in the blink of an eye. You and your loved ones could find yourselves without shelter or food, and understandably stressed and anxious. However, if you begin to feel like what you’re experiencing goes beyond normal stress, you may be experiencing some form of PTSD. In either case, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with a certified mental health professional in the wake of surviving a natural disaster. They will be able to help make sense of what you’re experiencing and prescribe an appropriate treatment plan.
If you don’t have the resources to see a mental health professional in person, look into free online resources, counseling and rehabilitation groups and even text therapy, which can be more accessible for some.
3. But Also, Safety First
Your first instinct is to heave a sigh of relief once the twister disappears in the distance and you and your family take your first tentative steps out of the basement. Inhale, exhale, and contact everyone who’s not in your immediate vicinity who should be. Then, take stock of the second shock wave – the illnesses and infections that often follow natural disasters.
For example, after a flood, mold becomes a serious health concern. The CDC has recommendations for assessing your risk and handling the potential hazards to your health. Untreated cuts and scrapes can lead to blood poisoning and tetanus. Get a booster if need be and wash all wounds, dress them with triple antibiotic ointment, and clean, sterile bandages. Pay attention to signs of discoloration and streaking lines around the injury.
It’s not unusual to become sick in the wake of a natural disaster’s wake. Storms stir up germs and displacement introduces you to new ones when your immune system is already compromised by stress. Please take a COVID-19 test and adhere to the required quarantine – even if you don’t have the novel coronavirus, you need a few days to rest and recover.
4. Stay Close to Your Loved Ones
Natural disasters make you cherish the ones you love. Nature intended for you to cling to each other in its wake. Honor that instinct.
Stay close to your loved ones. If you have children, they will need your guidance and support to heal. They don’t have an adult frame of reference to cope with what happened – they’ll need your help to process big feelings and make sense of the senseless.
Spending time with your loved ones also soothes your soul. Disasters have a way of reminding you what matters most. You can’t take material things with you, but the love you leave behind survives.
5. Accept Offers of Help
You might not realize how wide your friendship circle extends until you survive a disaster. However, please take advantage of offers of help. Don’t let pride deny you and your family the support you need to heal.
Please take advantage of available social services. You might not have ever needed a food bank before, but visiting one is better than letting your children go to sleep hungry.
If you’re spiritual, your house of worship is another sanctuary that may open its arms to you and your loved ones. Shelter yourself and those you care about in the arms of your faith, letting members of your congregation accept you and uplift your spirits.