Coping with Disaster and Crisis

Everyone experiences crisis at some points during life. A crisis may be personal, such as a death or the loss of a relationship, or community-wide, such as a fire on campus. Examples of crisis or trauma situations include deaths, natural disasters, violent crime, sexual assault and abuse, the aftermath of suicide, accidents, threats to public health, or campus or domestic violence. People may also experience trauma indirectly. For example, bystanders, friends or roommates of victims, or public safety personnel who work with disaster or trauma victims may be affected.

Each person responds to crisis or disaster differently. It is important though, to understand the potential reactions that accompany crisis and to know how to care for yourself during times of extreme stress.

Typical Responses to Disaster

Emotional Responses
Shock/Denial
Fear/Anxiety
Anger or Irritability
Depression
Feelings of Hopelessness
Guilt
Numbness
Mood Changes
Grief

Behavioral Responses
Changes in Activity Level
Social Withdrawal or Isolation
Restlessness/Agitation/Pacing
Eating or Appetite Changes
Sleep Disturbance/Insomnia
Increased Use of Alcohol/Drugs
Inability to Relax

Cognitive Responses
Forgetfulness
Difficulty Making Decisions
Difficulty Concentrating
Dreams/Nightmares of Event
Confusion
“Flashbacks” of Crisis Event
Confusion or Self-doubt

Physical Responses
Fatigue/Loss of Energy
Headaches/Back Pain
GI Distress/Nausea/Vomiting
Muscle Tension
Trembling
Rapid Heart Beat
Sweating or Chills
Dizziness
Exaggerated Startle Response
Weakness

Tips for Coping and Self-care 

•  Reach out and make contact with others.

•  Talk with friends and loved ones.

•  Recognize and accept your feelings as “normal” responses to extreme circumstances.

•  Express your feelings appropriately; consider keeping a journal to help in the process.

•  Structure your time.

•  Maintain your usual schedule as much as you can.

•  Get extra rest and set aside time to relax .

•  Eat regular balanced meals even if you don’t feel hungry.

•  Exercise or participate in some regular physical activity.

•  Don’t make major decisions or changes in your life.

•  Avoid excessive use of alcohol or drugs.

•  Consider contacting CAPS or a mental health professional if symptoms persist.

How to Support a Friend In Crisis 

•  Reach out and spend time with the person in crisis.

•  Make time to talk , encourage the person to express his/her feelings, and listen.

•  Respect the person’s need to spend time alone, too.

•  Help with everyday tasks, where possible – run errands, share a meal, pick up mail, care for a pet, etc.

•  Don’t try to offer false cheer or “fix things.” Listening non-judgmentally to another is a powerful form of support, in itself.

•  Help the person connect with supportive resources on campus and in the community.

•  Encourage the person to contact CAPS for help, when appropriate.

•  Take care of yourself, too; know your own limits. 

Campus and Community Resources