Mental Wellness Wednesday: Coping with stress after disasters


Anyone dealing with flooding in their homes, businesses or fields this week are likely dealing with a lot of stress, maybe even for a third time this year.

Mental health professionals say natural disasters can bring a lot of emotional stress; how to cope with that stress is this week’s Mental Wellness Wednesday.

“They’re going to have stress, they’re going to react, that’s normal,” Counselor Bernie Scolaro said.

As a disaster response volunteer for the Red Cross, Bernie Scolaro has seen first hand how those feelings of stress, anxiety and anger experienced during a disaster can also bring on a physical response.

“Maybe they can’t eat or sleep, thinking about something all the time, maybe they can’t think straight because they’re very confused, maybe they’re getting stomach aches or headaches, that’s just the nervous reactions that we feel when we experience any type of stress,” Scolaro said.

Even if your own home isn’t directly affected by the disaster, seeing someone  you know go through it can also impact your mental health.

“It could also trigger past events and emotions from something that happened to them last year or years ago,” Scolaro said.

“Seeing [the damage] second hand can bring on a lot of emotions: sadness, fear that could happen to them,” Morgan Haskell with Siouxland Mental Health Center said.  “One of the best things is just getting out there and helping, volunteering, seeing what you can do to help people is one of the best things you can do for that.”

That connection is also crucial for anyone who is dealing with damage.

“Having that support system, that’s huge. They have to feel like people are there that will listen to them and that they can talk to somebody,” Scolaro said.

“There’s a vast majority of people not only in Siouxland areas but other areas as well that are willing to help people rebuild their life,” Haskell said.

And even though there is plenty of work to do after a disaster strikes, taking time to take care of yourself can help you cope with a disaster.

“Eating well, getting sleep, doing things that make you feel better. It might be reading a book, might be taking a walk, going socializing with friends, try to get into routine of doing things that make you feel better,” Scolaro said.

If your feelings of stress, anxiety or anger just aren’t going away after dealing with a disaster, it may be time to talk with a mental health professional. It is incredibly common for people to experience PTSD after disasters.

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