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What if things don't go back to normal after a disaster?

If something big, like a natural disaster or pandemic has got you anxious about when, how or even if life will go back to normal, you’re not alone.

Teen boy looking sad, with forehead pressed to glass window

I just want everything to go back to normal...

That’s understandable. You might be going through a period of huge stress and change. You may also be dealing with a lot of loss and grief – and longing for how things used to be.

Our brains find change and the unknown stressful. Routines, and everything that’s familiar is something our brain sees as being ‘safe’ - so it’s normal if you find yourself wishing or fantasising you can go back there. And dealing with stress gets supertiring after a while, making us hope for some normalcy again to cope. 

In some cases, it’s not always possible to go back to ‘normal’ - at least, the ‘old normal’. But with time, it is possible to get used to a ‘new normal’.

Will things suck forever?

That’s the good news – things won’t always suck. But, some real talk – they may suck for a while longer.

There’s no time limit or right or wrong way to cope with something like a natural disaster. Everyone heals in their own time and their own way. The one thing we all have in common, is that things like this change us. For some people, the change is bigger than for others. 

Going through any kind of change brings up lots of tricky feelings. Those feelings are deeply personal and don’t always ‘match’ our experience – or we might feel mixed feelings at the same time, e.g. feeling both lucky things weren’t worse and pissed off it happened at all. 

After something big, like a pandemic or disaster, it's normal for change to bring feelings of grief. Change usually means that there’s been some degree of ‘loss’.  

That loss could be ‘tangible’, like losing a home or someone you care about. Or, it could be psychological, like losing your routine, or your feeling of safety and predictability. 


“We don’t ‘move on’ from loss, we ‘move forward' with it.”

– Amanda, Kids Helpline Counsellor

How can I feel better? 

There are lots of ways to get through this, and it’s important to figure out what works for you. Here are some things that have helped others going through similar challenges: 

  • Be kind to yourself. Healing takes time. You might feel ok one moment and miserable the next – it sucks but it’s normal. 
  • Remind yourself that ‘this too shall pass’. Emotions are changeable. No matter how bad you feel, it won’t last forever (even if it feels like it might). 
  • Connect with other people. You can support each other and get through it together. 
  • Do things that bring you comfort. This can be anything that helps you feel safe and loved, such as spending time with a pet, hanging out with family members, or helping someone out. 
  • Make meaning. This one can be hard to do, and it can’t be forced – it kind of just happens naturally. When we asked people who’d been through a natural disaster what gave them meaning, they said stuff like, “I realised I’m stronger than I thought I was”, “I found out who my true friends were because they stuff around”, “I realised I didn’t like some stuff about my life – I wasn’t living up to my values – so I got a fresh start.” 

People saying things like, “Everything happens for a reason” can feel super insensitive – especially if you’re living through your worst-case scenario. Meaning is something that you give yourself. It doesn’t necessarily make the bad stuff ‘worth’ it – but it can help when it feels like things are pointless or worthless or out of control. 

It’s not just me... everyone’s suffering so much right now, what can I do?

A natural disaster or a pandemic is a ‘collective trauma’. This means a lot of people are going through the same difficult experiences as each other. 

Here are some ways the community can start to heal, when the time is right: 

  • Show kindness and empathy. Trauma can allow people to develop a stronger sense of empathy for those who are also having a tough time. This allows us to become more accepting and understanding of others. 
  • Show gratitude. People affected by trauma can have a greater appreciation for life and recognise pathways and possibilities they may not have considered before. Even small acts of kindness can completely change someone’s day for the better. 
  • Tell stories together. Stories reflect who we are, and what we believe. Often when people tell stories about their hardship, this can create supportive relationships with others that create unity and inspire action. 
  • Just be together. Traumatic growth can bring people closer together as we learn not to take those around us for granted. Collective trauma helps create a stronger connection between us and others. 
  • Find your strengths. Some of the toughest times have allowed people to realise how strong they are and develop their ‘inner strength’ (aka resilience). Anyone can develop resilience and it’s a bit of a superpower. It won’t stop life from sucking, but it will make the  crappy bits bother you less. 
  • Find small positives. Sometimes, good things can come about in the face of something bad. People might find they feel closer with others, they develop new strengths, or that their priorities change. 

Yeah, but will I ever feel normal again?

If you’re struggling, or you really can’t see how things could ever be ok again, it’s a sign you might need some extra support.

We're here for you 24/7. Give us a call or start a webchat anytime, for any reason.

This content was last reviewed 27/10/2023

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