Recovering Emotionally

Your own and your family's emotional care and recovery are just as important as rebuilding a home and healing physical injuries. You may be surprised at how you and others may feel after a disaster. Disasters can stir up many different feelings and thoughts. People may experience fear concerning their safety or that of a loved one, shock, disbelief, grief, anger and guilt. Memory problems, anxiety and/or depression are also possible after experiencing a disaster.

Disasters are upsetting experiences for everyone involved. Children, senior citizens, people with disabilities and people for whom English is not their first language are especially at risk. Children may become afraid and some elderly people may seem disoriented at first. People with disabilities may require additional assistance. It is important to let children and elderly people know that they are safe and that you will help them find a safe place to stay. It is important that you try to talk with them in a calm way.

When disaster strikes, a child's view of the world as a safe and predictable place is temporarily lost. Children become afraid that the event will happen again and that they or their family may be injured or killed. The damage, injuries and deaths that can result from an unexpected or uncontrollable event are difficult for most children to understand. How a parent or other adult reacts to a child following any traumatic event can help children recover more quickly and more completely. Children of different ages react in different ways to trauma. Your local Red Cross can give you information about helping children cope with disaster and trauma.

Some basic steps you can take to meet physical and emotional needs:

  • Try to return to as many of your personal and family routines as possible.
  • Get rest and drink plenty of water.
  • Limit your exposure to the sights and sounds of disaster, especially on television, the radio and in the newspapers.
  • Focus on the positive.
  • Recognize your own feelings.
  • Reach out and accept help from others.
  • Do something you enjoy. Do something as a family that you have all enjoyed in the past.
  • tay connected with your family and/or other support systems.
  • Realize that, sometimes, recovery can take time.

As you recover, it is a good idea to make sure that you have updated your family disaster plan and replenished essential disaster supplies just in case a disaster happens again. You will always feel better knowing that you are prepared and ready for anything. The American Red Cross encourages you to take five key actions: make a plan, build a kit, get trained, volunteer and give blood. For more information, ask your local Red Cross chapter about how you can prepare for any further disaster.

If you have more questions or observe unusual behavior in your children, which you think may be caused by a reaction to the disaster, contact your local Red Cross chapter, child's counselor or community professional for additional information and help. The Red Cross can also arrange for you to talk with a member of its disaster staff who has special expertise in dealing with disaster stress for more information.

Helping Pets

If you have pets, try to find and comfort them. A scared animal may react by biting or scratching. Handle animals carefully and calmly. Pets can become upset and react in unusual ways, such as spraying urine, defecating on floors or scratching/biting furnishings. Since pets will need regular care and attention to help them calm down, try to leave pets with a family member, friend, veterinarian or boarding facility while you are cleaning up your home. Animals are naturally inquisitive and could get injured if they are brought back to a damaged home.

  • Use toys, a blanket or favorite human's unsoiled clothing to comfort pets.
  • Make sure pets are fed their usual diet, and have plenty of water.
  • Visit your pets regularly, speak calmly and take some time out to play with them. Doing so can help you in your recovery, as well.

Catherine Paykin, MSSW
Transplant Programs Director
National Kidney Foundation
30 E. 33rd St.
New York, NY 10016
800/622-9010x144
212/889-2210 x144
cathyp@kidney.org