Ask someone about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and they may talk about soldiers or victims of abuse. But what about the widespread reality of natural disasters? You may be an earthquake, a wildfire, or a flood survivor. Living through tornados or hurricanes or tsunamis is becoming a more frequent experience as well. Such experiences can be sudden and devastating, usually impacting a whole community of people at once.
In other words, a natural disaster is a traumatic event with potentially long-term consequences. Survival can induce shock, denial, and, in some cases, survivor guilt. Situations like this can also result in PTSD. If so, it can present some unique complications that must be addressed.
Some of the Factors Related to Natural Disaster PTSD
Perhaps you lost your home. There is a chance you’ve been forced to live in a shelter or move in with family members. There are usually financial losses running parallel to the physical and emotional crises. And then there is the specific toll a natural disaster can take on children. They are often less able to process and rationalize the events they have endured.
In some cases, children could perceive the natural disaster as a targeted punishment for them. Complications like these increase the possibility of PTSD developing in adults and/or children.
Common Symptoms to Watch For
- Nightmares, flashbacks, and intrusive thoughts
- Sleep and digestive disturbances
- Self-isolation and withdrawal
- Loss of concentration
- Numbness and denial
- Low energy
- Acting out in anger
- Depression, self-harming, thoughts of death or suicide
What You Can Do to Cope With Natural Disaster PTSD
Let’s be crystal clear. If you or someone you know is showing possible signs of PTSD following a natural disaster, professional help is absolutely invaluable. This is not a condition to try handling with self-treatment alone. That said, it most definitely is a condition that benefits from certain self-help efforts. As you pursue a medical treatment approach, you can complement that modality by taking basic steps like:
Create a Self-Care Regimen
Each and every day must involve factors like:
- Healthy eating choices
- Proper hydration
- Exercise and physical activity
- Keeping a regular sleeping routine
- Cultivating relaxation techniques, e.g. meditation, breathing exercises, etc.
Avoid Self-Sabotaging Behaviors
- Resist the urge to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol
- Don’t focus on assigning guilt or blame
- Keep up on related developments to the natural disaster but take regular tech breaks
- Don’t withdraw or isolate
- Reach out when you need help
- Be patient with yourself because you’re bound to have some bad days
How to Help Children Impacted by a Natural Disaster
Focus on the Positive
- Point out the people who are helping
- Limit any exposure to news stories about the event
- Stay in touch with friends, family, and other loved ones
- Find upbeat ways to spend time together
Maintain Whatever Structure You Can
- Create a home and school schedule (if possible)
- Eat meals together
- Keep a regular sleep schedule
- Emphasize the importance of playtime
Routinely Reassure and Communicate Clearly
- Don’t keep them totally in the dark
- Validate their concerns and fears
- Encourage them to express what they are feeling
- Model calm behavior in front of them
As touched on above, whether it’s you, your child, or both, you will need help.
Seek PTSD Treatment
Regardless of the cause, PTSD can be addressed and treated. It impacts each person differently based on many factors, e.g. circumstances like a natural disaster. Despite these variables, a skilled therapist knows how to personalize their treatment approach to your needs. Such treatment can lessen your symptoms while teaching you valuable coping skills.
If a natural disaster has thrown your life into chaos, you are not alone. I invite you — urge you — to reach out to connect and receive support. Please read more about trauma therapy and let’s get you started on the path toward recovery. Contact me soon for a consultation.