Regardless of age, sex, religion or socioeconomic status, natural disasters can affect anyone. Whether relatively small or large in scale, natural disasters occur so frequently that 30-40% of the general public have experienced a natural disaster (Galea et.al, 2005). Like many other traumas, reactions to natural disasters are intense and often unpredictable. Certain experiences such as being emotional on the anniversary of the event, disrupted eating or sleeping patterns, as well as experiencing nausea and chest pain are completely normal reactions to a natural disaster. However, there is one key element that separates natural disasters from any other type of trauma: natural disasters are experienced by a large population of people at once. This allows survivors of natural disasters an opportunity to come together and work as a community to rebuild and regain what they have lost. Coming together as a community allows survivors to create their own narrative and become resilient in trying times.
There are many different types of natural disasters experienced throughout the world. Hurricanes, earthquakes, forest fires, floods, and tsunamis are just some of the natural disasters experienced by millions of people each year. Like other trauma types, the immediate reaction to a natural disaster is shock which can result in denial of the event or numbness to what is experienced by the survivor. Depending on the type of natural disaster that is experienced, there are many physical reactions that go along with the processing and recovery from this trauma type. Some natural disasters allow survivors to prepare such as hurricanes, wildfires, and tornados. Regularly reported symptoms surrounding these disasters include anxiety, aka the “it’s coming” mentality, as well as an easy startle reaction (Galea et.al, 2005). Other natural disasters such as floods and tsunamis can result in extreme sensitivity to environmental factors such as wetness, cold temperatures, and sludge. To get a better understanding of the trauma that is created from a natural disaster., please visit this blog. It provides a general overview of common feelings, battles with religion and immediate symptoms following a natural disaster.
For many types of trauma, spirituality plays an important role both in the initial processing of the event as well as the recovery from it. Spirituality is often questioned during the time of a natural disaster and can leave survivors feeling as though their God has abandoned them or is mad at them. Although these are completely natural reactions to this experience, research on the topic of natural disasters has shown that participating more in religious activity (if you are a spiritual individual) can increase feelings of life satisfaction, decrease depression, and allow for better recovery through religious coping (Bentzen, 2013). Religious coping is the ability of someone to use religion in order to understand and work through personal and situational demands in life. Activities such as attending regular services, helping out within the church community, as well as spending time in thought/prayer have all proven to be excellent ways to preserve after experiencing a natural disaster (Rezaeian, 2005).
Even though survivors may have a natural tendency to focus on the negative aspects of a disaster, a few survivors showing individual resiliency can spread resilient behaviors among the community (Luthar et al., 2014). Supportive responses from survivors of the community may lessen the impact of a trauma while allowing for acknowledgement of the event. This can transform unfavorable situations into insight and give meaning to the trauma. Building connections with others and accepting that change is a part of life helps survivors recognize their ability to rise above adversity (Luthar et al., 2014). It is also essential to be prepared as you can during a natural disaster. This guide outlines how to better prepare for a natural disaster. Steps such as making a plan, preparing emergency supplies and properly preparing your home could be the difference in surviving a disaster.
Adjustment to trauma over time is key for all survivors, especially those who have survived a natural disaster. Mental health professionals and volunteers of disaster relief organizations should use training such as Psychological First Aid to reduce the distress caused by a traumatic event and promote both short term and long-term adaptive functioning. Psychological first aid is an evidence based approach created to help survivors of disasters and terrorism. PFA is designed to reduce the initial distress created from trauma and helps promote positive and adaptive coping. Having the right training for survivors, providers, and witnesses of natural disasters will help overcome the new challenges they face daily.
1. Bentzen, J. S. (2013). Origins of religiousness: The role of natural disasters. Univ. of Copenhagen Dept. of Economics Discussion Paper, (13-02).
2. Galea, S., Nandi, A., & Vlahov, D. (2005). The Epidemiology of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after Disasters. Epidemiologic Reviews, 27(1), 78–91. doi: 10.1093/epirev/mxi003
3. Luthar, S. S., Lyman, E. L., & Crossman, E. J. (2014). Resilience and positive psychology. In Handbook of developmental psychopathology (pp. 125-140). Springer, Boston, MA.
4. Rezaeian, M. (2008). The adverse psychological outcomes of natural disasters: How religion may help to disrupt the connection. Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling, 62(3), 289-292.