Coping with Disasters

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Storm Damage - tree down in the road

Whether you live in tornado alley or in a hurricane-prone coastal region, it’s important to include emotional wellness activities in your diaster plan. Severe weather and evacuations can cause emotional distress such as anxiety, worry, and fear in both adults and children. Although no one can plan for a disaster, you can practice healthy coping skills by following these tips.

Practice Preparedness!
By developing an emergency plan ahead of time you are more likely to feel calm and in control during a storm. Visit for a variety of plans to fit your specific needs. Preparedness is a year-round activity that everyone in the family can participate in, including kids. Involving children and teens in preparedness activities may help them feel less anxious during an emergency and provide reassurance.

Limit Exposure to Media
It’s important to be aware of weather forecasts and local news, but tuning in around- the-clock can trigger additional panic and anxiety. Limit your media exposure, whether that’s watching television, listening to the radio, reading newspapers, or using social media. It’s especially important to limit news coverage when you have children Familyat home because distressing images and sensationalized headlines can cause more confusion, fear and stress. Find a healthy balance that works for you and your family.

Be a Positive Role Model
Children look up to parents and caregivers for guidance during emergencies and stressful situations. Encourage your kids to ask questions about things they see or hear on the news. Answering their questions honestly can help minimize additional confusion and decrease their anxiety. During severe weather forecasts or after a disaster, younger children might need extra attention and may have trouble processing certain emotions. If your child or teen is acting out or seems withdrawn after a disaster, this may be a sign that you need to reach out to a licensed mental health professional for additional assistance. 

Help Others Prepare
A great way to help neighbors, family and friends cope with severe weather is to help them create an emergency plan. Show an older adult or family member how to text their emergency contact or use social media to check in with loved ones. A simple “I’m OK” message can go a long way in easing additional anxiety and stress. Adults with special needs may be particularly vulnerable to feelings of isolation, anxiety and other depression during severe weather. Try to check in on people who may be vulnerable after a disaster or major storm.

Maintain Normal Routines and Practice Self-Care
Even during chaotic or stressful times, it’s important to try to maintain your normal routine. In the face of severe weather, you may need to stay indoors. Avoid “cabin fever” by cooking a favorite meal, playing a board game with the family, or watching a funny movie. This is also an opportunity to do some self-care activities you might not normally have time for, such as meditation, yoga, relaxation techniques, or breathing exercises. Maintaining normal routines is especially important if you have children. It can help ease any anxiety that they may have about the unpredictable nature of severe weather.

Know When to Reach Out for Help

Even after you’ve tried these tips for coping, you may still find yourself struggling with difficult emotions, and that’s common- you’re not alone. After experiencing a severe weather event or a disaster, it may take time to bounce back. With time and support you can continue to move forward and resume every day routines. Learn more about common distress symptoms and what signs to look for so you can help yourself and loved ones better cope. If you need immediate emotional support or want to talk to a caring counselor about what you’re feeling, you can always call the Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 (TTY 1-800-846-8517) or SMS (text “TalkWithUs” to 66746) anytime, day or night.

Distress Line LogoThe Disaster Distress Helpline is a program of SAMHSA administered by Link2Health Solutions, Inc. and is the first national hotline dedicated to providing year-round crisis counseling for anyone in distress before, during or after natural or human-caused disasters. This toll-free, multilingual, crisis support service is available 24/7 via telephone (1-800-985-5990) and SMS (text ‘TalkWithUs’ to 66746; Spanish-speakers text ‘Hablanos’ to 66746) to residents in the U.S. and territories. Calls and texts are answered by trained, caring counselors from a network of crisis call centers across the country.

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Page last reviewed: June 26, 2013
Page last updated: June 26, 2013