I live on the East Coast, a few hours inland from Atlantic City, N.J. where the most recent hurricane, Sandy, hit just a few days ago. Where I live we were safe. A few roads flooded, there were a lot of trees down, making travel over the past few days a bit tricky and unfortunately caused damage to some homes. I had some of my siding come off my house. But overall, we were safe.
As I watched the news unfolding, I saw streets and boardwalks that were familiar - I grew up going to the beach every year. I have friends who live in towns along the coast and other friends who own summer homes near the ocean. Fortunately, all friends have been accounted for and are doing fine. But everyone hasn’t been so lucky. So many homes and lives have been destroyed as the ferocious winds and belting rains washed away their belongings, where they work and, at least for the time being, their normal life.
Checking on friends and relatives, gathering what they can of their belongings, cleaning up the mess left behind is just the start. Dealing with natural disasters doesn’t just take a physical toll, it creates emotional turmoil. Feelings of loss, helplessness and hopelessness are normal reactions. Often, in the first few days after an event such as this, survivors are in a state of shock and denial. Because the reality of the situation is too much to deal with at one time, your emotions are blocked, giving you time to absorb all that has happened.
According to Concordia University - St. Paul, you may feel some or all of the following:
- Feelings of grief, anger, fear, resentment, helplessness or hopelessness
- Being confused, worried or disoriented
- Decreased attention and concentration and memory problems
- Feeling restless, irritable, tense or overly tired
- Having trouble sleeping
- Difficulty trusting others or experience conflict in your relationships
- Withdrawing from friends or relatives
For most people, these feelings will subside over the first few weeks, but Concordia University states that “as many as one in three survivors of natural disasters will experience more severe stress responses. Those responses can last for multiple weeks, months or even years.” 
They suggest getting back into your daily routine as soon as possible, or at least, establishing a new routine or structure to your day as well as making sure your and your family’s daily needs, such as food, shelter and safety are all taken care of. There should be community resources you can take advantage of: the Red Cross, FEMA, Salvation Army, local churches. Use the resources to help you and your family recover, both physically and emotionally.
Besides these, additional ways to help yourself and speed your recovery:
- Avoid becoming overwhelmed by breaking problems into small steps. Each step you solve will help you feel more in control of your situation
- Talk with friends and relatives, or others within your community, about your experiences and feelings to help relieve feelings of aloneness and to offer one another emotional and physical support.
- Learn about normal reactions to stress and what to expect - for you and your family - so you are prepared and more able to deal with the emotional impact
- Practice relaxation and stress reducing techniques, such as deep breathing, yoga, meditation, prayer, listening to music, etc.
- Find time for recreation and hobbies. Dealing with a natural disaster can zap you of your time and emotional strength but taking a little time to do activities you enjoy is important and can help take your mind off it for a little while
- Volunteer to help others. Although your problems may seem overwhelming, chances are, there are many people in your community going through similar problems. Reaching out to help them can be healing
Many communities probably have set up centers for residents to receive counseling as well as physical help. If so, take advantage of this resource to help you sort out your feelings. If you are still feeling depressed or anxious after a few weeks, seek out a professional therapist or counselor or ask for a referral to continue counseling beyond what the community resources are offering.
“Emotional Effects of Natural Disasters,” 1983, June 27, Nadine Brozan, The New York Times
 “Surviving a Natural Disaster: The Emotional Toll, Date Unknown, Staff Writer, Concordia University - St. Paul
Published On: October 31, 2012