Don't Ignore Signs of Disaster-Related Stress

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Release date: 
September 16, 2011
Release Number: 

ALBANY, N.Y. – New York residents facing the loss of homes, businesses or cherished possessions in the wake of Hurricane Irene may find themselves struggling to cope with the emotional impact of disaster. Local, state and federal officials are urging those survivors to be aware of the signs of emotional stress and to seek out help if they are feeling overwhelmed.

Everyone who lives through a disaster is affected by it in some way. It is normal to feel anxious about your own safety and that of family and friends. Profound sadness, grief, and anger are normal reactions to an abnormal event, and acknowledging such feelings is a first step toward healing. Everyone has different ways of coping, but remember that seeking or accepting help from community counseling programs is healthy and worthwhile.

The following signs may indicate the need for crisis counseling or stress management assistance:

  • Difficulty communicating or sleeping.
  • Depression, sadness or feelings of hopelessness.
  • Increased use of drugs and/or alcohol.
  • Limited attention span, poor performance at work or school.
  • Headaches/stomach problems, flu-like symptoms, disorientation or confusion.
  • Reluctance to leave home.
  • Mood-swings, frequent bouts of crying.
  • Overwhelming feelings of guilt and self-doubt.

The following are ways to ease disaster-related stress:

  • Talk with someone about your feelings of anger or sorrow.
  • Seek help from professional counselors.
  • Take steps to promote your own physical and emotional healing by healthy eating, rest, exercise, relaxation, and meditation.
  • Maintain as normal a family or daily routine as possible.
  • Use existing support groups of family, friends, and religious institutions.
  • Ensure you are ready for future events by restocking your family disaster plan disaster supplies kits and updating your family disaster plan. Taking such positive steps can be comforting.

Children can be particularly affected by disaster-related emotional stress. Regardless of your child’s age, remember to:

  • Set an example of calm, even though you may feel stressed. If you feel unable to control your emotions, seek out help and support from family or professionals.
  • Keep routines as consistent as possible and answer questions openly and honestly at a level children can understand.
  • Allow your children to talk about the event. Listen to their concerns and questions. Help them label and cope with their feelings. Let them know it is OK to feel angry or sad.
  • Reassure your children that you love and will care for them, especially at bedtime.
  • Provide a peaceful household to the extent possible under the circumstances.
  • Limit children’s exposure to adult discussions and news reports about the disaster.
  • Provide opportunities to talk and play, be creative and physically active.

Mental health representatives are available at Disaster Recovery Centers (DRCs) to assist applicants who may be experiencing emotional distress. In addition, people may also contact their local mental health or community services office for assistance.

For more information, visit /coping-disaster or

FEMA's mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.

Last Updated: 
July 16, 2012 - 18:46
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