Tasmania's bushfires are unsettling for all of us. In times of emergency our human response is naturally to respond to immediate danger, usually out of instinct. While we tend to focus on physical damage and loss, the toll on our emotions is equally significant.
Natural disasters and catastrophic events are extremely stressful for survivors and observers. Whether or not you have been directly impacted by the traumatic events still occurring in Tasmania, it is normal to feel anxious, scared and uncertain about what the future may bring.
For most of us these unsettling thoughts and feelings fade as life returns to normal, but you can help that process by putting in place some simple strategies.
Seek comfort and support
Natural disasters and traumatic events turn our world upside down and shatter our sense of safety. Being proactive about our wellbeing – and that of our loved ones – will help make you feel less powerless and vulnerable. Focus on things that help you feel calmer and in control by:
- re-establishing a routine. Structure the day with regular times for eating, sleeping and spending time with family. Do things that keep your mind occupied – such as reading, watching a movie, cooking or playing with the kids.
- connecting with others. While it may be tempting to withdraw and avoid others after a traumatic event it is important to stay connected to life and the people who care about you. Spend time with your loved ones. Connect with other survivors. Do "normal" things that have nothing to do with the trauma you have experienced. Participate in memorials and events, and get involved with support groups such as your local church, community organisation, sports group and friends.
- reminding yourself that you have the strength and coping skills to cope with challenges and tough times. A good way to do this is by helping others by volunteering your time.
Minimise media exposure
While some people gain a sense of control by watching media coverage of the event and recovery effort, others find reminders upsetting. Limit your exposure to the disaster, and don't watch the news just before going to bed. Protect your children from seeing or hearing unnecessary reminders, and after watching coverage talk with your loved ones about the footage and what you are feeling.
Acknowledge and accept your feelings
We may experience all kinds of difficult emotions such as shock, anger and guilt following a traumatic event. Sometimes it may feel like the sadness and anxiety will never go away. These are normal reactions to situations that lead to a loss of safety and security following a disaster, and it is important that we allow ourselves to feel what we feel:
- give yourself time to heal and mourn any losses you have experienced
- don't try and force the healing process
- be patient with the pace of recovery and be prepared for difficult and volatile emotions
- allow yourself to feel whatever you are feeling without judgement or guilt and
- talk to someone you trust about what you are feeling.
Reduce your stress
Almost everyone will experience stress after going through a traumatic event. Stress is a normal part of life, but too much stress will get in the way of recovery.
Take time for rest and relaxation and do things you enjoy – a pastime, talking to a good friend, reading, watching a movie, taking a bath. Try relaxing activities such as meditation, listening to music, remembering a favourite spot or going for a walk to a beautiful place.
Helping children cope with trauma and stress
After a disaster or traumatic event children need reassurance and support. Do your best to create an environment where your children feel safe and can discuss what they are feeling or ask questions.
When you talk to your children it is important to be honest – don't say nothing is wrong if something is wrong, and don't make promises you can’t keep. Tailor the information you share with your children according to their age.
If you don't know the answer to a question, don't be afraid to say so.
Limit your child's exposure to graphic images and videos, and provide a chance for children and young people to talk and ask questions if they see news footage. Remember that children often personalise events, even if they are occurring far away – reassure them by placing events in context.
Most of us will recover from traumatic events within a relatively short time, however, plenty of support is available if you feel you are not coping and your traumatic stress is getting in the way of your ability to return to normal functions.
- If you need to talk to someone, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or contact your GP.
- Health information and advice is available by calling HealthDirect on 1800 022 222.
- The Tasmanian Mental Health Services Helpline can provide advice and help for people experiencing mental health crisis. Call the helpline on 1800 332 388.
Online resources include:
- Beyond Blue – provide a range of resources for people dealing with the effects of Natural Disaster.
- Headspace – a national youth mental health foundation with plenty of resources for young people, parents and carers.
- Reachout – an online mental health service for youth, including tips on how to help friends who are stressed.
- Mindhealth Connect – the Australian Government's national E-Mental Health Strategy, providing a gateway for issues surrounding mental health care and meeting the needs of individuals, carers and health professionals.
Other bushfire help:
- For more information on the fire situation and support services call 1800 567 567.
- Up-to-date information on the fires is available at www.fire.tas.gov.au
- Information on grants and other support available to those affected by fires can be found at www.dpac.tas.gov.au/bushfires
Updated: 8 January 2013