5 Essential Tips To Remember After A Natural Disaster

mental health after a natural disaster, Nashville tornado, disaster response counseling

Earlier this week, an unexpected and devastating tornado tore through Nashville, causing immense structural damage and claiming the lives of at least 24 people across the state of Tennessee. Like many Nashvillians, Willow Counseling feels the hurt in our city, and we wanted to offer up some helpful emotional tips for us as we try to move forward in the aftermath of this city-wide trauma.

It’s no secret that catastrophes and tragedies can occur suddenly, even sometimes without notice. We learned that here in Nashville. When a tornado, hurricane, earthquake, or other natural disaster strikes, it’s normal to feel panicked, angry, scared, sad, confused, and even numb. While these feelings are common (and expected), without proper care, they can perpetuate and trigger symptoms associated with depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

Let’s get into the best practices for taking care of yourself after a natural disaster. 

#1. Reach Out For Support

Research on disaster response shows that, after a natural disaster occurs, communities tend to bond together. In fact, disaster collectivism refers to the altruism, social responsibility, and solidarity effects that emerge after an emergency. Nashville is a pro at this community bond. We take care of each other. We’ve seen it before, and we’re seeing it again now.

When it comes to needing support, it doesn’t matter whether you were impacted directly or not. Natural disasters can make people feel isolated, terrified, and depressed. Connecting with even a single safe person can make a tremendous difference for your well-being.

Furthermore, most communities offer brief crisis counseling or support groups after a disaster. These options can provide you with a safe and supportive space to express your feelings and receive guidance for taking care of yourself. Mental health resources available online and in Nashville are listed at the bottom of this article.

#2. Stick To A Schedule As Best You Can

Natural disasters can impact your housing arrangements, career, health status, and the relationship you have with friends and family. Everything may feel completely out of whack, and this can undoubtedly impact your mental health. Adhering to a routine keeps you proactive, and it can promote a sense of healing and recovery.  

While a routine doesn’t “fix” the problems that may have occurred, it can certainly help things feel less chaotic and downright out-of-control. Even if it’s just drinking your morning cup of coffee or attending your evening workout class, if you can return to some semblance of your usual way of living, you’ll start to feel better. 

#3. Aim To Avoid or Limit Harmful ‘Escape’ Mechanisms

Anger. Fear. Shock. Sadness. After a natural disaster, you may not know how to cope with these intense, fluctuating emotions. While it may feel tempting to turn to alcohol, online shopping, binge-watching, or copious amounts of sugar, escaping your feelings doesn’t solve the problem. Likewise, these mechanisms don’t actually help you feel better because they only numb and prolong the pain.

Instead, try to focus on honoring your feelings and honing in on your self-care. Even if the feelings are uncomfortable, trust that they are necessary, and trust that they will pass. Remember that all feelings are valid, and there is no set timeline here. If possible, aim to take it easy. Take walks. Meditate or pray. Write in a journal.

#4. Focus On Helping Others

Research shows that helping others boosts prosocial behavior, makes you happier, and can even help you live longer. Moreover, it’s contagious in the sense that your service work can trigger others to help and give back as well.

In the wake of a natural disaster, communities come together to rebuild. In the blink of an eye, people can lose their homes, businesses, and loved ones. They can lose everything that mattered to them. If you have the energy and resources, aim to help. This will promote your own healing, and it will foster a sense of connection to the community around you. For an up-to-date list for how to help Nashville, visit the Hands on Nashville, Community Resource Center, and The Community Foundation websites. Lightning 100 also has a well-maintained list of ways to give and receive help.

#5. Understand There Is No Timeline For Emotional Healing

Natural disasters can be incredibly traumatic, and you may struggle with trauma-related symptoms related to:

  • Lack of motivation
  • Irritability
  • Lethargy and fatigue 
  • Depression and hopelessness
  • Hypervigilance
  • Concentration problems
  • Sleep issues
  • Appetite issues
  • Anxious thinking
  • Strained relationships
  • Flashbacks and nightmares

These symptoms are normal, and many of them are temporary. Some days will feel harder than others; your emotions may feel intense, and you may struggle with these symptoms more in times of stress. That said, things should feel somewhat more manageable as time passes. If symptoms continue to persist- or if they worsen- it’s often best to reach out for professional support.

Taking Care Of You And Your Loved Ones After A Natural Disaster

After a natural disaster, you might struggle with many questions and very few answers. You might feel confused and afraid. You might even feel shocked or numb. Remember that just like a community doesn’t repair itself overnight, your healing will also take time. Be kind to yourself and others during this process.

At Willow Counseling, we are here for our community. If you are struggling with taking care of yourself after a natural disaster- or if you’ve suffered from trauma in your past- therapy can help you on your journey towards wellness. Contact us today to learn more.


Mental Health Disaster Response Resources

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