Article | August 2016

Coping After a Disaster

Stress and self-care

Living through a disaster is an incredibly stressful event. Each person reacts to that stress differently. Responses to a stressful event can depend on factors such as:

  • How physically or psychologically close you were to the event
  • Your level of responsibility during the event
  • Your current life situation
  • Your past experience with personal crisis
  • How much support you get from friends, family and coworkers

A stressful event can affect how we think, act, and feel. It impacts us both physically and emotionally. You might experience some of these reactions:

Nausea or upset stomach Thoughts and images of the event Anxiety, fear, and worry
Changes in appetite Fearful thoughts Sadness or withdrawal
Headaches or muscle aches Trouble concentrating Grief or feelings of helplessness
Trouble sleeping Distressing dreams Anger or irritability
Fatigue Feeling dazed or disoriented Numbness

You may feel uncomfortable with your reaction. Or you might worry about why you aren’t coping better. Remind yourself that you're having normal reactions to an abnormal event.

These reactions are usually temporary and pass within a few weeks. They might pass more quickly or easily if you take good care of yourself. Self-care means choosing to act in healthy ways rather than just reacting. Here are some ways to do this:

Self-care strategies: Emotional

  • Focus on things you have control over. Give yourself permission to let go of the rest.
  • Reach out to loved ones. Spend time with supportive people who care about you.
  • Talk about what happened, and share your feelings. Recognize that you may be dealing with many forms of loss. You might be grieving the loss of expectations for the future, or beliefs about your safety. Writing about your thoughts and feelings may help. Some people find comfort in creative activities such as music or painting.
  • Realize that grief doesn’t follow an orderly process. You may feel strong and capable one day and overwhelmed the next. Be patient with yourself as you work through this.
  • Know that anger can sometimes cover up a deeper emotion. What seems like anger might really be fear, hurt, or powerlessness.
  • Be careful not to take out your hurt and anger on others. This makes it harder for them to be supportive. And it can create negative feelings for you.
  • Tapping into your spirituality may help you, too.

Self-care strategies: Thoughts

  • Get your facts about the event from a reliable, objective source. Don’t rely on rumors or guesswork.
  • Structure your time. Choose activities that engage your mind and body. Focus on the present, and set short-term goals to stay on track.
  • Remind yourself of challenges you have managed in the past. Think about your strengths and abilities that helped you survive and thrive.
  • Lower the demands that you put on yourself. Keep your expectations realistic.
  • Give your mind a break. Try to stop yourself from dwelling on what has happened and what might happen next. Focus on the positives in your life and the things that make you grateful.

Self-care strategies: Physical

  • Get enough sleep to feel well rested. It helps to go to bed and get up at regular hours.
  • Eat well-balanced meals at regular times.
  • Stay away from mood altering substances such as alcohol or drugs.
  • Get some exercise each day to help with managing stress.
  • Nurture yourself by spending time each day doing something calming. Try deep breathing, meditation, progressive relaxation, or activities that you enjoy.
Grandmother hugs

For more information, resources, and support, contact your Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

This material is provided by Cigna for informational/educational purposes only. It is not medical/clinical advice. Only a health care provider can make a diagnosis or recommend a treatment plan. For more information about your behavioral health benefits, you can call the member services or behavioral health telephone number listed on your health care ID card.