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.

These symptoms can be quite strong and are often at their worst in the first few weeks. They are not signs of weakness. These feelings are a response to a serious traumatic event and are to be expected. In most cases, they will fade over the following weeks or months, although some people may experience them for a longer period.

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
  • 'replaying' the event and inventing different outcomes in order to be prepared should it happen again
  • 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.

Getting help

Need help now? Call Triple Zero (000) or go to a hospital if you are in immediate danger.

If you or someone you care about is distressed, in crisis, suicidal or needs someone to talk to, help is available. Find a mental health service.

You can also talk to your general practitioner (GP) or community health centre.

If you don't have anyone nearby to talk to, there are help lines, counselling and support groups available.

If you're having trouble coping, you can also