Stress Management & Recovery From Disaster
Family Records and Financial Recovery
Taking steps to protect
and ensure access to important family records and financial information can make
- Keep copies of your identification and other important family papers, such
as marriage licenses and birth certificates.
- Keep a record of all your financial accounts (bank accounts, loans, credit
cards), including the name of each institution, its contact information, and
your account numbers.
- If you keep important information on your computer, regularly back up your
- Keep a copy of this information in your Emergency Kit.
- You may want to store important information in a fireproof and waterproof
safe, or in a secure place away from your home, such as a bank safety deposit
If you run a home-based or small business, you should take additional
steps to prepare yourself.
Back up and store all computer records offsite.
If you have a store or office, have an evacuation plan in place for staff
Maintain sufficient insurance coverage.
Identify critical business functions (such as shipping, inventory control,
payroll) and develop processes to ensure these will carry on.
Develop a communications plan so that employees can get information after
a disaster, and so you can keep track of any staff.
In the wake of a disaster, many financial institutions offer victims help
(such as flexibility with payments). You may want to discuss this with your
bank, lender, or credit card company.
Disaster victims may also be eligible for federal, local and/or charitable
assistance to help recover from the financial impacts of a disaster. Look for
information about various assistance programs that may be available.
Recovery from an emergency continues even after you return home, as you deal
with the emotional and psychological effects of the event. Reactions
vary from person to person, but may include:
Restless sleep or nightmares
Anger or wanting revenge
Numbness or lack of emotion
Needing to keep active, restlessness
Needing to talk about your experiences
Loss of appetite
Weight loss or gain
All of the above are normal reactions to stressful events, and it is
important to let people react their own way. It may be helpful to:
Talk with your family and friends about what happened and how you feel
Volunteer at a local shelter, or food pantry to assist emergency victims.
Spend time doing things other than watching or listening to news of the
Consult a counselor.
In particular, children may need reassurance and extra attention.
Encourage them to share their feelings. They may tell stories about the
emergency over and over again—this is a common way for them to grasp what
they’ve experienced. You may also want to share your feelings about the event
What are some suggestions for individual approaches?
Manage Your workload.
Balance Your lifestyle.
Get physical exercise and stretch muscles when possible.
Eat nutritiously and avoid excessive junk food,
caffeine, alcohol, or tobacco.
Get adequate sleep and rest.
Maintain contact and connection with coworkers, your
boss, family and friends, withdrawal limits your need for support.
Apply stress reduction techniques.
Reduce physical tension by taking deep breaths, calming
self through meditation, walking mindfully, etc.
Use time off for exercise, reading, listening to music,
taking a bath, talking to family, or getting a special meal to recharge
Talk about emotions and reactions with others who
support you or need support during
Recognize and heed early warning signs for stress
Accept that one may not be able to self-assess
problematic stress reactions.
Avoid over identification with survivors'/victims' grief
and trauma, which may interfere with discussing painful material.
Understand differences between professional helping
relationships and friendships.
Examine personal prejudices and cultural stereotypes.
Be mindful that vicarious traumatization or compassion
fatigue may develop
Recognize when a personal disaster experience or loss
interferes with your effectiveness.
How to Listen to Someone Who Is Hurting
Whenever people face bereavement, injury, or other kinds of trauma, they
need to talk about it in order to heal. To talk, they need willing listeners.
Unfortunately, many of us shrink from listening to people in pain. We may feel
like we have enough troubles of our own, or be afraid of making matters worse
by saying the wrong thing.
Sometimes we excuse ourselves by assuming that listening to people who are
hurting is strictly a matter for professionals such as psychotherapists or
members of the clergy. It is true that professional people can help in special
ways, and provide the suffering individual with insights that most of us
aren't able to offer. However, their assistance, although valuable, is no
substitute for the caring interest of supervisors, co-workers, friends, and
others from the person's normal daily life.
It is natural to feel reluctant or even afraid of facing another person's
painful feelings. But it is important not to let this fear prevent us from
doing what we can to help someone who is suffering.
Though each situation is unique, some guidelines can help make the process
The most important thing to do is simply to be there and listen and show
Find a private setting where you won't be overheard or interrupted.
Arrange things so that there are no large objects, such as a desk or table, between
you and the person.
Keep your comments brief and simple so that you don't get the person off
Ask questions which show your interest and encourage the person to keep
talking, for example:
"What happened next?"
"What was that like?"
Give verbal and non-verbal messages of caring and support. Facial
expressions and body posture go a long way toward showing your interest.
Don't hesitate to interject your own feelings as appropriate, for example:
"I'm so sorry."
Let people know that it's OK to cry. Some people are embarrassed if they
cry in front of others. Handing over a box of tissues in a matter-of-fact
way can help show that tears are normal and appropriate. It's also OK if you
get a bit teary yourself.
Don't be distressed by differences in the way people respond. One person
may react very calmly, while another expresses strong feelings. One person
may have an immediate emotional response; another may be "numb" at first and
respond emotionally later. Emotions are rarely simple; people who are
suffering loss often feel anger along with grief. Unless you see signs of
actual danger, simply accept the feelings as that person's natural response
at the moment. If a person is usually rational and sensible, those qualities
will return once their painful feelings are expressed.
Don't offer unsolicited advice. People usually will ask for advice later
if they need it; initially it just gets in the way of talking things out.
Don't turn the conversation into a forum for your own experiences. If
you have had a similar experience, you may want to mention that briefly when
the moment seems right. But do not say, "I know exactly how you feel,"
because everybody is different.
It's natural to worry about saying the "wrong thing." The following is a
brief but helpful list of three other things not to say to someone who is
DO NOT SAY:
"You shouldn't take it so hard."
Anything which tries to minimize the person's pain.
"It could be a lot worse"
"You're young: you'll get over it"
Anything which asks the person to disguise or reject his/her
"You have to pull yourself together."
These are helpful guidelines, but the most important thing is to be there
and listen in a caring way. People will understand if you say something
awkward in a difficult situation.
Once you have finished talking, it may be appropriate to offer simple forms
of help. Check about basic things like eating and sleeping. Sharing a meal may
help the person find an appetite. Giving a ride to someone too upset to drive
may mean a lot. Ask what else you can do to be of assistance.
After you have talked to someone who is hurting, you may feel as if you
have absorbed some of that person's pain. Take care of yourself by talking to
a friend, taking a walk, or doing whatever helps restore your own spirits.
Congratulate yourself on having had the courage to help someone in need when
it wasn't easy.
Prioritize Steps Needed To Recovery
Take steps to prevent accidents and illness.
Much of the human suffering associated with a disaster happens after
the event itself, and can be prevented through good planning. It is
particularly important to prevent the overwork and exhaustion that tend to occur
as people throw themselves into disaster recovery operations, because exhaustion
raises the risk of accidents and illness.
Post-disaster environments are often less safe and sanitary than normal
ones, so that people living and working in them need to exercise special care.
Exhaustion and lack of sleep can decrease alertness, impair judgment, and
make people more vulnerable to accidents.
People who are exhausted are at increased risk for disease and often
forget to take preventive steps such as drinking enough safe water, avoiding
contaminated water, and using whatever other precautions are appropriate in
Prevent overwork and exhaustion. After an initial crisis
period during which overwork may be necessary, develop a plan to assure that
you and others do not work too many hours without rest. There are several strategies
for assuring that people do not exhaust themselves and encouraging them to adopt
safe, health promoting behavior:
Be sure to get adequate help for all new responsibilities created
after the disaster, and for traditional responsibilities that become more
demanding as a result of it. Prior planning, developing relationships with
friends, neighbors and coworkers can make a big
Set clear priorities, including identifying work that simply will not be
done in the short term.
Train yourself to monitor others and check for signs of
Since leaders are especially prone to overwork, monitor fellow leaders and
set a positive example for others.
In Business and the Family: Take care to assure that no one has an essential task that no one
else knows how to do, or that person will surely be overworked.
Encourage and facilitate healthy, safe behavior. Do not stop
at telling people what to do; make it easy for them to do it.
Educate others. Remind them of the importance of getting adequate sleep
and rest, drinking enough water, and using whatever precautions are necessary
to the environment.
Be sure there is a convenient supply of safe drinking water, keep it cold
if possible, and remind others to drink water regularly. It's not uncommon
to become dehydrated under stress.
If your building's water supply is unsafe, don't just tell people not to
drink it. Physically block water fountains with tape, cardboard, etc., and
post prominent signs above washbasins.
If traffic is heavily congested after a disaster, avoid unnecessary
travel. When travel is necessary, try to organize carpools with a well rested
driver who knows the area rather than sending anyone off alone.
Provide opportunities for others to talk about their stressful
experiences. To recover from severe stress, people need to talk about
what they have gone through, and to compare their reactions with those of
others. Consider the following suggestions:
Provide or attend a group meeting organized by a counselor or other mental health professional.
Remind yourself and others that you need help,
remember some may need more personal assistance in resolving problems
arising from the disaster than others.
Don't try to be to formal, just talk to others and ask questions to
ascertain how you may help. If you want to help or are a counselor, go to
where people are working and offer help informally.
Offer opportunities for family, employees or others to share their experiences informally,
for example, by providing a break area with coffee or other refreshments.
Managing When the Stress Doesn't Go Away
Taking care of yourself and others under conditions of severe,
long lasting stress can be one of the most difficult challenges a person may
face. It's not easy, you must develop innovative approaches, and be
sensitive to the needs of others when you're at least as uncomfortable as they are. There are, however, some
approaches that have proved
helpful in these situations:
Take steps to reduce the sources of stress. If danger is a
problem, call the right law enforcement authorities immediately, and get all the
advice and concrete support you can. If others are overwhelmed by
competing demands in the aftermath of a large scale emergency, suggest clear
priorities. You probably cannot
"fix" the entire situation, but you can improve it. Your friends will feel
better if they know you are working on their behalf.
Communicate with your friends, coworkers and others. This is
always important, but even more so when everyone is under long term stress. In
most stressful situations, one source of anxiety is a sense of being out of
control. Everyone will feel better if they have up-to-date information consider frequently meeting
others and and suggest keeping an updated notice board in a
If you are a leader others will have a greater sense of control if you are careful to
listen to them with an open mind before making decisions that affect them.
Even if your decision turns out not to be the one they would have wished for,
they will feel less powerless if they believe that their ideas and preferences
were given serious consideration.
Encourage teamwork and cooperation.
Under long term stress, there is no substitute for a supportive, caring work
Don't underestimate the impact of stress on you as an individual.
Attend to your own stress management program, and use your resources for
professional consultation and counseling. You will find it easier to take care
of your work group if you also take care of yourself.
Tips for Coping With Extreme Stress
Concentrate on caring for yourself.
Talk about it with other people in the same situation. Compare reactions,
reassure yourself that you are not alone in the way you are feeling.
Talk about it with friends and relatives who care about you. It's normal
to need to tell your story over and over.
Keep your schedule as routine as possible, and don't overdo it.
Allow time for hobbies, relaxing activities, being with friends, even if
you don't quite feel like it.
Participate in whatever physical fitness activities you normally enjoy.
Utilize spiritual resources.
Beware of any temptation to turn to alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, and sweet
foods. They may make you feel better momentarily, but can cause more problems
in the long run. Concentrate instead on a healthy diet.
If you can, postpone major life decisions until you have had a chance to
get yourself back onto a more even keel.
Don't hesitate to accept help . If you
can, offer help to others affected by the event.
Sometimes good self-care and talking with friends are not enough. You may
want to seek professional counseling .
This does not mean you are "sick," but rather that a counselor may be able to
help you get your recovery process on track.
More Survival Information
A Manager's Handbook: Handling Traumatic Events