Managing stress after a disaster
After a disaster you’ll use a lot of emotional energy coping with your fears, frustrations and other feelings.
You may not realise how much energy you're using, continue to work too hard and for too long, and put aside your emotional and physical wellbeing.
Eventually, you will begin to feel the effects. This is when normal stress symptoms may begin to show and can affect your mind, body, feelings and relationships.
Normal stress symptoms
- trouble thinking clearly, planning or making decisions
- low attention span or difficulty concentrating or remembering details
- continually thinking about the problem or other difficult times
- not speaking clearly, slurring words or forgetting names.
- tension, stress or tightness in muscles
- weakness, tiredness and a loss of energy or enthusiasm
- headaches, trembling, sweating, nausea, aches or pains
- lack of appetite or an increased desire for stimulants, sugar, alcohol, tobacco or coffee
- feeling tired but unable to sleep, or having disturbed sleep, dreams or nightmares.
- detached and don’t care about things any more
- irritable, bad tempered, impatient or restless
- overwhelmed and everything seems too difficult
- tearful for no reason
- easily upset or oversensitive to what others do and say
- insecure or wanting to stay in familiar places
- feeling sad and hopeless as though the emergency will never end
- very emotional and experiencing reasonable waves of anger or worry.
- blame others for the stress
- tend to blow things out of proportion
- can’t feel happiness, enjoyment or affection for loved ones
- changed relationships with those close to you
- no longer want to be with family or friends or always need them around
- need to always talk about the emergency
- feel others don’t understand or don’t care.
These reactions are normal after a traumatic event. But if they continue, it can turn into a stress cycle and eventually a lifestyle. You need to break the cycle to overcome stress.
Break the stress cycle
Step 1: Recognise you are stressed
People don’t often recognise they are stressed because they are too focused on the problems. Listen to others who may see you more clearly than you see yourself.
Step 2: Recognise your stress cycle
If stress has been ongoing, a pattern of stress may form. This is called a stress cycle and may become a lifestyle.
Step 3: Decide to break your pattern of stress
Although there are lots of things about the stress in your life that you cannot change, there may be some that you can.
Step 4: Reduce stressful activities
Check your lifestyle and routines to see where you can reduce the stress. Try to stop doing things that keep stress high.
Step 5: Increase relaxation and positive activities
Build activities into your day that are rewarding and give you a good feeling. Take time to enjoy yourself.
Take care of yourself
Doing things you enjoy can be the best cure for stress and there are many things you can do to break the stress cycle.
- take regular exercise such as walking, swimming, and cycling
- reduce your intake of alcohol, tobacco and sugar
- eat regular, well balanced meals.
- keep regular contact with people you enjoy being with
- ask for help when you need it
- make time to be with your family or friends
- talk to people you trust about what is happening and how you are feeling.
- do regular relaxation exercises such as deep breathing, listening to quiet music, meditation
- consider massage or simple exercises to help with physical tension
- rest regularly, even if it’s only for a short time
- find something to make you laugh.
- accept that it will take time to get out of the stress cycle and keep trying
- take care to stay safe, as your concentration and judgement may be impaired
- try to be organised so you have some time to yourself.
If you feel unable to change or have distressing symptoms, talk to your general practitioner (GP), community health centre or community mental health service.
Some GPs have additional training and expertise in mental health. Search for a GP online or phone beyondblue on 1300 224 636.
Phone a telephone counselling service to talk about your feelings and get information and advice.
Search for a health or community service through the QFinder online directory.
Adapted with the permission of the Emergency Management Branch, Department of Human Services, Victorian Government.