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Psychological Response to Disaster

Why do I feel the way I do?

Disasters often strike with little or no warning.  In an instant your home, community and sense of well-being can be damaged, destroyed and forever changed.  Even if your home or business does not suffer direct damage, the disaster touches everyone who experiences it. 

For many, the disaster continues as a very real presence, with multiple delays in the effort to recover and rebuild coupled with ongoing and prolonged stress and family or financial problems. While the desire to get back to “normal” and surviving day to day are immediate concerns which must be addressed, emotional reactions are often pushed aside or ignored.

Feelings of sadness, depression, frustration, anger and anxiety are very common and normal reactions to an abnormal event.  Nightmares, flashbacks, isolation, substance abuse, domestic violence, self harming behavior and suicide may increase following a disaster.  It is not unusual for these feelings to come and go and to last for several months, sometimes longer.  These reactions may be experienced in thoughts, feelings and actions, and is often upsetting to the individual, loved ones and may affect relationships in the workplace.  

Learning to recognize the normal reactions and emotions that occur following a disaster can help give a better understanding of these feelings, making it more comfortable and effective in coping with them. It is very important to remember that they are NORMAL REACTIONS TO AN ABNORMAL EVENT.

Key Concepts to Remember for Recovery

  • Stress and grief are NORMAL reactions to an abnormal situation
  • Social support systems (family, friends, etc.) are crucial to recovery
  • Everyone recovers in their own way, and at their own pace
  • Professional help is available for those who need it

Helpful Links for Coping with Traumatic Events

Recovery From the Emotional Aftermath of a Disaster (PDF,43 KB)

Managing Your Stress (PDF, 431 KB)

What to Expect in Your Personal, Family, Work and Financial Life (PDF, 460 KB)

Last Revised: October 22, 2014