Disaster Mental Health Team: tips to improve coping skills after repeat disasters

photo by Barbara Wood / American Red Cross

American Red Crosser Jeff Roediger has some tips for coping with the anxiety and other effects of stress caused by the series of severe atmospheric river storms (currently 11 and counting) that have slammed California this winter. 

Roediger says that events such as disasters and evacuations, especially those that occur more than once, “are mentally, physically and spiritually draining.” Such events can create a sense of loss or grief over things already lost, fear for life or safety, even hopelessness, he says.

Among the thoughts and behaviors that can appear, Roediger says, are anger, cognitive difficulties such as not being able to think clearly, racing thoughts, the desire to isolate ones self, or bad coping skills such as using drugs or alcohol or risky behavior.

Here are some of Roediger’s tips:

1  –  Keep in touch with family and friends.  
“Talk to somebody about the event. Don’t bottle it up,” Roediger, a professional counselor from South Carolina on his 30th disaster response assignment, says.

“The more we talk about it, the more we normalize it,” he says.  “It becomes part of our life and it no longer it has power over us.”  

2 -If you know someone who has suffered from a disaster Listen to what the person has to say.
”Just let them talk,” Roediger says. “People want to be heard.”  

3  – Distract yourself 
If you find yourself unable to stop thinking about the disaster, find something else to do Roediger says.  Listen to music, draw, write, go for a walk, make a gratitude list.

4 – If you have suffered a loss in a disaster, make a list of things you must do to recover.
“Let the list sit for a time and then prioritize each item. Lists help move focus to the future, not the past,” he says. 

5 – Anyone stressed by a disaster can ask to speak to a Red Cross counselor, free of charge.
The Red Cross also partners with the free SAMHSA Disaster Distress helpline, where a trained counselor is available 24 hours a day at (800) 985-5990.