Recovering from the
Emotional Aftermath
of a Disaster

Disasters often strike with little or no warning. In an instant your home and community can be damaged or destroyed and forever changed.

After a disaster, it is common to experience a wide range of reactions including changes in your thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

Learning to understand your reactions can help you cope better and find healing.

Feelings of sadness, anger and grief are normal reactions to abnormal events such as  disasters.

You may not experience these feelings initially while your time and energy are consumed picking up the pieces and rebuilding. They may surface later.

Here are some feelings you may be experiencing:

Changes in behavior also are normal reactions to traumatic events. Common behaviors may include:

Disasters can affect people mentally. You may be experiencing:

There are several things you and your family can do to reduce stress:

As much as possible families should maintain routines such as having regular meals together, engaging in enjoyable activities and other family rituals. This will help you feel that life still has some sense of order and normalcy.

Helping your spouse

Couples need to tend to their relationship. Make time to be alone, talk about your feelings and have fun together.

Helping children

Talk with children about their experiences and let them freely express their feelings. This is a confusing and frightening time for them.

Pay attention to changes in their behavior and other signs that can indicate emotional distress. Some children may withdraw while others will act out in anger.

It is not uncommon for immature behaviors to reappear, such as bed-wetting or thumb-sucking. Children also may have nightmares or show their fear as symptoms of sickness.

Accept their special needs by allowing them to become more dependent on you for a time and give them plenty of affection.

Helping the elderly

Older family members will experience many of the same reactions as others, but there are some particular concerns they may have such as fears of declining health, becoming dependent or being institutionalized.

Because of these fears, they may be reluctant to reveal the full extent of the disaster's impact.

Reassure them by showing that you care and are available whenever they are ready to accept your help.


It is important to be realistic about recovery. It probably will not be an easy or short-term process. You may be facing many challenges.

Recognizing that you cannot control everything can help ease your stress, and setting realistic timeframes can increase your hope that life will again return to normal.

If your stress level becomes unmanageable or lasts longer than three months, you should seek professional help.