How to protect your mental health during natural disasters

How to protect your mental health during natural disasters

5 practical things you can do to fight feeling helpless

bushfires Australia 2020
Bushfires are raging in Australia and no sight is in sight just yet.

Australia is on fire and it is not a pretty sight. While bushfires are not new to an Australian summer, the current fires break all the records, for all the wrong reasons. They are bigger, more ferocious, more destructive and more damaging than ever before. Disaster seems an inappropriate word to try and describe the scale of these fires.

We have lost lives, houses, bushland and it’s not over yet. It is estimated that half a billion animals have died so far. Thousands of people had to evacuate their homes and many of them don’t know yet what they will find when they return.

It’s a shitshow of a global scale, right here in our backyard.

Many people feel hopeless and helpless. What can we do right now to help? Is it too late?

The current bushfires do not only take a huge toll on our country as a whole but also on a personal level. This situation is unsettling, anxiety inducing and overwhelming.

If you feel your mental health is suffering because of the fires then read on about the five things you can do right now to ensure you stay mentally well during this time.

Control what you can

An example of preparing a bushfire ready plan.

With a natural disaster of this enormity, a lot is out of our control. Not feeling like we are in control sucks. Assess your situation. What is it that you can control? Where do you focus your energy on?

There is a high chance that quite a few things are in your control. Prepare yourself. Would you be ready to leave if you had to? Follow your bushfire plan. Knowing that you are ready and prepared has a big impact on your mental health. It will feel like you can do something!

A word of caution here. Now is not the time to play the hero. If your local fire fighters urge you to leave then go. Don’t stay and assess the situation first. They have done that for you! Trust them and go!

Acknowledge your emotions

Hope and despair are always close together in times of crisis.

If you are someone who struggles with anxiety or similar mental health conditions, now is a time of great stress. Let’s not mince words here. Most importantly though – that is ok. It is more than normal to feel scared, unsettled, upset, angry or sad.

Acknowledge your feelings and what is going on. Be honest with yourself. Allowing ourselves to recognize what is going on is the first step to feeling better. How?

Suppressing feelings isn’t a good idea at the best of times, so it’s certainly not helping now in the worst of times. It is ok to say ‘I am so scared’ or ‘I am not sure if I can cope’.

Once you acknowledge what is going on, decide what approach to take. What practical steps can you take to manage your emotional state?

Where possible, ensure that your medication is nearby and fully replenished if you are taking any.

Meditate and practice mindfulness. Yes, these are extraordinarily stressful times. Allow yourself five minutes here and there to retreat and seek calm. Be present in those moments and gather up your energy before you head out into this hot world again. This will allow yourself to feel more grounded and more ready to get through this challenge.

Seek help

Seeking help does not take away from your own strength.

We are going through uncertain times. Uncertainty may be exciting for some but right now, this creates anxiety and a feeling of complete overwhelm. All these emotions and confusing thoughts can be hard to sort out and digest. Don’t delay and go and see a counsellor who can help you examine what is going on with you. Now is not the time to play tough. When we are feeling vulnerable and stressed out, it is always best to talk it out and create some order in your personal thought chaos.

Do NOT compare yourself to others

Everyone’s struggle matters.

In such hard times like now, it is very easy to compare ourselves to others and think ‘they have it worse than me, I should be ok’.

Yes, the bushfires have claimed lives and land and a whole lot of hope. It is tragic beyond belief. It is indescribable.

But and that is important, EVERY struggle is valid. That includes yours.

You may not have lost your house and fires near you are under control. You may be safe where you are for now.

If so then that is great. It doesn’t mean though your mental health hasn’t suffered. Remind yourself that this has been hard on you – your mind, your body and soul. IT is ok to not be ok. Others may have it worse but we can’t change that. What we CAN change is you. If you are better mentally, you might be able to help others in some way.

Allow yourself to sort yourself out and get a plan of attack. Who knows what you can do once you are feeling better?

If you compare yourself to others and deny yourself the help you need, no one is better off. Not you and not your community as a whole.

Be in it for the long haul

Doing your own mental health check ins is very important.

We all hope that these fires will stop soon. Once they have, the challenge isn’t over though. Not for the country and not for you. Stay alert and do your own regular mental health check ins. How are you feeling?

Is your anxiety getting worse? Is there something that triggers you? What emotions come up?

Such check ins are important for a number of reasons. It will help you monitor your mental health and see if something more serious comes up for you. PTSD may not only happen to fire fighters and first responders, unfortunately.

If your mental health deteriorates, don’t delay and seek help. It doesn’t matter if this is a week after the fires stopped, a month or a year. When you need help, allow yourself to get it. You deserve to stay well or get well again – no matter how long it takes or when it starts. Mental health ALWAYS matters.

If you can, please donate to NSW Rural Fire Service via their website www.rfs.nsw.gov.au or to the Victorian Bushfire Appeal via www.communityenterprisefoundation.com.au/make-a-donation/bushfire-disaster-appeal

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