Weathering the Storm

Pastor John Tardonia

Helpful hints for you and those you care for in the event of a natural disaster.

It was Job who said: “For hardship does not spring from the soil. Nor does trouble sprout from the ground. Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.” It goes without saying that troubles and even disaster events touch our lives in some form or another. 
What are the effects of a natural disaster on our lives? What are some ways we can prepare ourselves to deal with the losses and confusion brought by a disaster? How can we come alongside others as the church to assist our family and friends in ways that are helpful? 

What are some of the effects that we might expect in the event of a disaster?

There are some common effects most people may experience during and after a disaster event. 

• Shock and denial are normal protective responses to a disaster, especially shortly after the event. These are normal protective responses.

• Emotions can become intense and sometimes unpredictable. Some may feel irritable, anxious, angry or depressed. Others tend to become emotionally numb and unable to express their feelings.

• You may be overwhelmed by memories of the event and possible flashbacks that may cause your heart to race.

• Difficulty concentrating, staying focused, disorientation, indecision, worry, memory loss and overall confusion may result. 

• Interpersonal relationships can be easily strained. With everyone feeling emotionally drained there is a great chance of being impatient with family members, friends, classmates or coworkers. Others may withdraw or isolate themselves from usual contact. Some will feel abandoned, judgmental or over-controlling.

• Physical symptoms may arise due to extreme stress, such as fatigue, edginess, body aches, headaches, nausea, change in appetite or sleep habits.      

These and other responses grow largely out of our fear of losing control and are a normal part of being human in the event of trauma and personal loss. Bear in mind that not everyone will respond the same to disaster. There is no right or wrong way to grieve our losses and so we need to give one another space and support as we attempt to bear one another’s burdens. 

What can be done to reduce the risk of negative long-term psychological effects due to a disaster?

• Begin focusing on your immediate personal and family priorities to preserve a sense of hope and trust that God is in control.

• Connect and establish communication with family, friends, pastors or counselors in order to talk about your experiences. Take every chance you can to tell your story and be a listener to others as they tell theirs. This allows you to release stress, a little at a time.

• Identify key resources such as FEMA, Red Cross, and other agencies for emergency assistance

• Take each day one day at a time. 

How can you care well for your children and their special needs?

The intense fear and anxiety that comes with a disaster can be a traumatic event and especially troubling for young children. Children may be prone to nightmares and afraid to sleep alone. There may be changes in their behavior, including temper tantrums or becoming withdrawn. 

There a number of things that you can do to help alleviate some of the emotional and behavioral consequences of a traumatic event.

• Spend additional time with young children and allow them to be more dependent during the weeks and months after the event. Show a healthy amount of physical affection.

• Provide play experiences to relieve some of the tension.

• For young children, you may find it helpful to have them do some nonverbal activities, like drawing pictures, to express their ideas and feelings about the disaster.

• Invite older children to put words to what they are feeling about the event and how it is affecting them. This helps them reduce their anxiety related to the trauma. Enter the story as they tell it without feeling the need to change it to make them or you feel more comfortable. 

• Try to bring some consistency back into their lives by keeping a regular schedule such as eating, playing, going to bed at a certain time to restore a sense of security and normalcy.

• Limit the amount of exposure to media covering the event. Young children are not developmentally able to process disaster news coverage, especially when it is continuous.

How can you help yourself and your family?

There are a number of things you can do to restore a sense of well being and security following a disaster that creates trauma.

• Give yourself time to heal from the event. Anticipate that it will be a difficult journey and allow yourself the freedom to mourn the losses you have experienced. Be patient and let God work in you through the process.

• Ask for support from others who care about you and who will listen and empathize with your experience. Be aware that your support system may be weakened to some degree because of others close to you that have been affected by the disaster. You may need to seek support from others who were not directly affected.

• Communicate your experience in whatever ways feel appropriate for you to do so and with those who will listen well. You may even want to journal your experience as a way of telling your story.

• Eat well-balanced meals, get adequate rest and avoid alcohol or illegal drugs as a means to cope.

• Try to establish a routine as soon as possible. Take some breaks in the aftermath to rest and even enjoy some fun activity.

• Avoid any major life decisions while under the stress of recovering from the disaster.