What to Do When Disaster Strikes
by: Jim Urban, LPC.
Hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, and other natural disasters can be some of the most traumatic events many people will ever endure. If you keep up with current events you know that Texas was hit with the worst hurricane in several centuries, and a strong hurricane may make landfall this weekend in Florida. These traumatic events have unfortunately followed a tumultuous August where our nation saw the underbelly of racism rear its ugly head in Charlottesville, and result in the loss of a beloved social justice leader in Charlottesville in addition to the injuries many others sustained. The traumas that our fellow-Americans are facing can take a major toll on many dimensions of health: physical safety, psychological health, loss of property, economic ruin, separation from one’s primary support system, challenges to one’s faith, etc… . People are understandably afraid, upset, and struggling to cope with these incredible challenges.
When disasters and traumas like these strike you, the ones you love, and/or your nation it’s important that you have the tools to cope. It’s also important that you are aware of resources and opportunities to get involved in efforts to help victims of these events. Whether you have been affected by a trauma or know someone who has, we all need to know how to access the help that is readily available to us.
Take Advantage of Resources Made Available to You. The reaction of some following a trauma is to isolate and retreat into hiding. Maybe they aren’t physically hiding with the curtains drawn, but they may be afraid and reluctant to speak up and admit if they are in psychological pain, so they choose to suffer in silence. In our Western culture we are often ashamed or embarrassed if we can’t “handle” difficult situations, and we fear the judgment of others. The truth is we all will find ourselves in the position of needing help at various points throughout our lives. Some of the kinds of help needed may be:
- Help with material resources
- Help coping with psychological pain
- Help from a pastor, priest, or spiritual leader
- A friend to talk to during a difficult time
- A family member to stay with
- Leave of absence from your job
Please know that if you find yourself or someone you know affected by a trauma you don’t have to suffer alone! In nearly any area of the country you can usually find the following resources:
- American Red Cross http://www.redcross.org/
- Shelters https://www.disasterassistance.gov/information/immediate-needs
- Pastoral support (check local shelters for spiritual support available)
- Professional Counseling http://www.redcross.org/get-help/disaster-relief-and-recovery-services/recovering-emotionally
Be Gentle with Yourself. Once again, in our culture we idolize the idea of being independent and self-sufficient. The idea that we might need time away from our usual responsibilities and routines can seem like an admission of weakness, but it’s not. The truth is an empty cup has nothing to give, but rather is in need of being filled. What fills us and heals us is being attentive to our emotional, social, spiritual, and physical needs, and getting those met before we re-enter our routine. With that in mind here are a couple of principles to remember:
- Give yourself permission to take the time you need to heal.
- Expect that recovering from trauma will involve a series of emotional twists and turns.
- Anticipate good days and bad days, and have a list of self-care strategies ready for those bad days.
- If you find yourself doubting God and wondering “why” find someone in your church who is a good, wise listener and process those thoughts and feelings. Another option is to read the Psalms, which are very relatable for many people in times of sorrow and difficulty.
Stand in Solidarity with the Suffering. If you find yourself in the position of being able to help those affected by a trauma or disaster you may be wondering what to say or do. The truth is, time and time again, life teaches us that the best thing to do for a suffering soul is to sit with them in their sorrow. We don’t need magical words, a motivational speech, or eloquent words from God to make a difference, we just need to be quiet and listen. After we’ve spent time listening we may have an opportunity to speak words of hope to the individual, and if so, here are some key things to remember:
- Anticipate that the person may express thoughts that are out of character for them. Don’t be surprised if someone who has lost everything reacts in anger, feels abandoned by God, or is overcome and overwhelmed by anxiety or panic.
- Avoid “fixing” them. While we certainly want to help meet the physical, material needs, and want to be a shoulder to cry on, this is not the time to preach or give a monologue.
- Allow yourself not to have the answers. Believe it or not a simple “I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that I will be here for you, will pray for you, and will be available to you” is often the best answer to a question one cannot answer. Even in psychotherapy we don’t rush to answer a client’s questions regarding why God would allow them to endure pain, because we believe God will take them on a journey toward discovering the answer that brings them peace. Our job is to be the consistent presence of love, support, and empathy.
- If asked for something to hang on to, for some words of hope and comfort, share some Scriptures or inspirational words that meant something to you in your time of trouble.
During these trying times it’s important for us all to take stock of how we can give and receive help. Share in the comments below what you are doing to aid the victims of the recent natural disasters and traumas, or how you have been helped if you are one of the victims.
If you’re hurting and don’t know where to turn please email us or call us so we can point you in the right direction!