Natural Disaster Health

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Mental Health & Stress

Smoke, evacuations, loss, worry— floods, wildfires and other natural disasters in B.C. affect us all. If you are feeling stressed or anxious, you are not alone. To reduce stress and anxiety, practice the following steps:

  • Prepare – Having a clear emergency plan and kit ready for your family, pets and livestock can ease your mind and allow you to focus on other needs.
  • Take care – Stress takes a toll on our physical and mental health. Eating well, exercising and getting enough sleep lowers stress and helps us cope.
  • Ask for help – Talking helps. Whether it’s with family, friends, a doctor or counsellor. Crisis lines are available to listen and help anytime—not just during a crisis (see contact information). If you have been evacuated, you can also ask an Emergency Support Services volunteer about the mental health or counselling support available to you.
  • Help others – Reach out to the vulnerable. Assisting others can help us regain a sense of purpose and community as we confront challenges together
     

Fear and anxiety are natural reactions to stressful events and can stir up past traumas. To help yourself and your loved ones:

  • Accept offers of help. Seek counselling or spiritual guidance
  • Focus on positive memories and the skills you’ve used to get through other hard times
  • Give yourself and your loved one’s permission to grieve
  • Practice cultural or spiritual customs that bring you comfort

With support, most people recover within a few weeks; however, some will need more time and help to heal. Watch for warning signs of extended anxiety and contact a medical professional or trusted community leader if they last more than two to four weeks:

  • Trouble with eating and sleeping
  • Feeling depressed or hopeless; showing low energy or crying often
  • Being anxious and fearful
  • Trouble focusing on daily activities
  • Recurring thoughts or nightmares
  • Avoiding activities or places that are reminders of the event

During traumatic events, expect children to need more attention and reassurance. Children experiencing stress or anxiety may be clingy, reactive or act-out with disruptive behaviour. They may fear strangers or family members and may avoid situations or activities they once enjoyed (e.g. going to school, playing with others, etc.). They may also revert to habits from an earlier age such as thumb-sucking or bed-wetting. For children, these are all normal reactions to stressful situations.

To help stressed or anxious children, consider these tips:

  • Remain calm when your child is anxious.
  • Reassure them they are safe and have support.
  • Have thoughtful discussions about the situation, providing concrete explanations of what has happened.
  • Explain that good people are helping to make the situation better.
  • Provide opportunities for children to speak openly about their feelings.
  • Practice ways to relax (e.g. mindfulness or breathing exercises).
  • Work to keep a daily routine and take part in activities as a family

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) is hosting a series of free community talks in the Interior and the North about stress in the face of natural disasters throughout summer/fall 2019. Learn more tips for coping with natural disaster stress, and how you can help support family and friends through:

It’s important to take care of your mental health during a wildfire, to find simple tips and other wildfire-related information visit Your Health During a Wildfire.