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Coping with natural disasters

When things feel out of control it’s important to have coping strategies ready


Prepare for the unexpected

Australia experiences various kinds of natural disasters – cyclones, floods, bushfires, drought – but remember there is always help available

  • There are many services in Australia that can support the recovery effort – you are not alone 
  • Getting things back to normal can take time, but recovery is possible 

Different people react differently, depending on their personality and situation

Generally though, most people will experience some or all of these impacts when they’re going through a natural disaster event:

Physical symptoms – stress-related headaches or stomach pains

Physical injuries – due to the natural event, needing food or water

Cognitive – repetitive thoughts, nightmares, or trouble concentrating

Emotional – feelings such as grief, fear, anxiety, sadness, guilt or depression

Social – changes to friendships, relationship troubles with family or siblings

Spiritual – questioning your beliefs, faith, or asking a higher power for help

Things you can do before a disaster

If you think that a natural disaster is headed your way, here are some things that can help:

  • Talk to parents, guardians, or teachers about your worries and fears
  • Stay informed by reading news online or listening to local radio
  • Gather any personal belongings in case you need to leave quickly 
  • Keep pets in a secure room or fenced area so they are safe
  • Stay close to parents, family, friends – avoid going places by yourself
  • You might feel frightened or scared – that’s an ok response to a really stressful situation
  • Take some deep, calming breaths
  • Listen to music or watch your favourite show to take your mind off it
  • Remind yourself that help is always available 
  • Remember that things can return to normal after natural events

Dealing with natural disasters

If you’re affected by a natural event, you’ll need some tools to help you cope. Try these strategies:

Try to focus on one thing at a time to reduce stress
Drink water and eat food regularly to stay healthy
Accept that you might feel on-edge – that’s a normal response
If you feel like talking, seek out a friend, parent, or adult you trust
Ask what you can do to help the situation e.g. look after pets
Mini breaks doing things you enjoy help reduce stress
Hug someone you trust to release feel-good hormones in your body

Give yourself time and space to experience all the emotions – don’t expect things to go back to normal straight away.

Rebuilding after a natural disaster

Recovering from a natural event can take time. It helps if you have support around you. Try out these tips on how to get back on track. 

  • Allow yourself to feel numb or ‘strange’ for a little while after – it’s your body’s natural response to a scary situation but things should soon return to normal
  • Sometimes when everybody’s tired and scared conflict can happen in families – that’s common in high stress situations and will usually pass
  • Get back to your old routine or start a new one – it can help reduce feelings of uncertainty, confusion, or anxiety
  • Spend time with parents, family, friends – enjoy each other’s company and try to find the positives
  • Do some things that help you feel calm, safe, and positive – e.g. listen to music, watch your favourite show, exercise, or deep breathing
  • Talk about the experience and what it was like for you – these things affect people differently and for different reasons
  • Take part in the recovery effort – ask a parent or guardian what you can do to help

Sometimes we all need extra help to get through a scary event

If things aren’t returning to normal, it could be a sign that you or someone you know needs some extra help, e.g. talking to a counsellor or other professional.

Here are some things to look out for:

Being withdrawn or avoiding others

Increased use of drugs and alcohol

Wanting to hurt yourself or others

Finding it hard to focus and concentrate

Constantly feeling scared, unsafe, or worried

Feeling very sad or hopeless most of the time

Not being able to talk about it or bottling things up

When two months have passed and you feel the same/worse

Where to get more support

Talking to someone is often the first step on the road to recovery. Here are some people you can talk to:

Parent or guardian
Kids Helpline
Older sibling or relative
School counsellor

Help is here if you need it

You’re not alone. Kids Helpline is always open. Plus it’s free! 

You can give us a call, send us an email or talk to us on WebChat.

This content was last reviewed 06/01/2020

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