During difficult times, especially during and after natural disasters, resilient people seek options, reach out to others for support, and do not give up.

However, due to the unpredictable and unexpected nature of natural disasters, it is not uncommon to experience emotional, physical, and often isolated, distanced reactions during traumatic events. Learning how to manage your stress and increase resilience is important to you and your family’s success.

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Tips on Managing Stress

  • Manage your stress, anger, blame, and depression in healthy ways (such as through exercising, eating right, meditating, etc.) and draw strength from places of peace, your faith or spirituality, relationships outside your family, etc.
  • Monitor the meaning or perception you have about the natural disaster. Strive to find a positive meaning that will benefit you and your family.
  • Make wise management choices by thoughtfully choosing when some decisions will be made by one person, and when others will be made as a family group.
  • Involve all major stakeholders/family members in the decision-making process whenever possible to reduce stress and strain, and ease the burden of responsibility.
  • Practice effective communication by listening to what others say and how they feel.
  • Hold regular family meetings to recognize achievements and accomplishments, solve problems, create a shared family vision, and make wise decisions.

Additional Information

How do I recognize stress and depression?

Although individuals and families are tough, independent, resilient people, they may experience stress and depression. During and immediately following a natural disaster, watch for signs of chronic, prolonged stress experienced by individuals and family members. Common signs include:

  • Physical signs – Headaches, backaches, eating irregularities, sleep disturbances, frequent sickness, ulcers, or exhaustion.
  • Emotional signs – Sadness, depression, anger or blame, anxiety, loss of spirit, or loss of humor.
  • Behavioral signs – Irritability, backbiting, acting out, withdrawal, alcoholism, or violence.
  • Cognitive signs – Memory loss, lack of concentration, or inability to make decisions.
  • Problems with self-esteem – “I’m a failure,” “I blew it,” “Why can’t I…?”In addition to common signs of stress, some individuals may experience and present signs of depression. As you continue to take care of yourself and your family members, please keep these signs of depression in mind.
Signs of Depression
  • Appearance: Sad face, slow movements, unkempt look, drastic weight change–either up or down.
  • Unhappy feelings: Feeling sad, hopeless, discouraged, and listless. Negative thoughts: “I’m a failure,” “I’m no good,” “No one cares.”
  • Reduced activity and pleasure in usual activities: “Doing anything is just too much of an effort.”
  • People problems: “I don’t want anyone to see me,” “I feel so lonely.”
  • Physical problems: Sleeping problems, decreased sexual interest, headaches.
  • Guilt and low self-esteem: “ It’s completely my fault,” “I should be punished.”
  • Feeling worthless, inadequate, rejected, and insecure.
  • Lack of future orientation in conversation.

If you or someone you know is thinking about killing him/herself, call immediately to 1-800-SUICIDE or 1-800-784-2433 to talk with someone about where to go for help.

How can I maintain my emotional wellbeing after a natural disaster?

1. Fire, Flood, Tornado, Blizzard,etc.—what does it mean to me today? (For example, it means we’re losing our family home. It means that we’ll build a new home, that’s even better!)

2. What actions/steps are I likely to take with a meaning like this? (I’m likely to withdraw. I’m likely to talk with and listen to family members.)

3. What emotions am I likely to feel when I think about this meaning? (Depression, sadness, enthusiasm, hope, and excitement.)

4. When I experienced a different crisis, what steps did I take that helped my family and me survive? What coping skills did I use then that helped me/bounce back? (We brainstormed solutions to our problem. We maintained a sense of humor. We consulted with our attorney, our lender, our family counselor, and our accountant. We held family meetings and listened to one another’s ideas.)

5. What personal resources did I use? (My problem-solving skills, sense of humor, determination to take one day at a time, and my spiritual life.)

6. What family resources did I use? (Communicating openly and discussing the pros and cons of solutions that we brainstormed.)

7. What community resources didI use? (Accountant, attorney, lender, mental health counselor, licensed marriage and family therapist, physician, priest/minister, and guidance counselor.)

8. What personal, family, or community resources could we use to better cope with this fire/flood/tornado/blizzard aftermath today?(Hold monthly family meetings, accept predicaments over which we have no control, and solve problems within our control one at a time.)

9. What are some healthy ways I can use to reduce stress? (Ask my spouse for a backrub, make time daily to unwind, and focus one-on-one one-one with each family member.)

10. What are some healthy ways I can use to decrease my anger levels? (Stop, step back, and think – what do I really want for myself and for the person with whom I am angry?)

11. What are some healthy ways I can use to manage depression? (Make a list of my strengths and accomplishments. Visit with a trusted counselor, physician, or psychologist.)

12. What are some resources we could call on? (Physicians, counselors, ministers, accountants, attorneys, and lenders.)

Author and Publication Date

By R.J. Fetsch, E. Koppel, and C.A. Fruhauf

Published: 09/13, Revised 10/21

R. J. Fetsch, emeritus professor and Extension specialist, human development and family studies; E. Koeppel, graduate assistant, human development and family studies; C. A. Fruhauf, associate professor, human development and family studies. 9/2013


Benight, C. C., & Harper, M. L. (2002). Coping self-efficacy perceptions as a mediator between acute stress response and long-term distress following natural disasters. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 15(3), 177-186.

Benight, C. C., Swift, E., Sanger, J., Smith, A., & Zeppelin, D. (1999). Coping self-efficacy as a mediator of distress following a natural disaster. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 29, 24432464.

Nel, P., & Righarts, M. (2008). Natural disasters and the risk of violent civil conflict. International Studies Quarterly, 1(52), 159-185.

Adapted from Williams, R. T., & Fetsch, R. J. (2003). Farm and ranch family stress and depression: A checklist and guide for making referrals. Retrieved March 4, 2003