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Practical Tips for your Emotional Wellbeing after an Emergency

How to look after your mental health following an emergency or traumatic situation

Whether it's a terrorist incident or your home flooding, everyone's experience of an emergency is unique. However, the strong feelings and emotions that arise from these incidents can be very similar among people. The information on this page is intended to help you recognise common reactions to traumatic situations and help you on your road to recovery.

Feelings and emotions

Common feelings and emotions after an emergency incident can include:

  • Fear
  • Helplessness
  • Sadness
  • Longing
  • Guilt
  • Shame
  • Anger
  • Anxiety and panic, even over small things

Physical and mental reactions

Common physical and mental sensations can include:

  • A tendency to keep reliving/replaying the incident in their mind (a flashback)
  • Periods where you break down and cry
  • Tiredness, which can be made worse by feeling the need to keep busy
  • Insomnia
  • Nightmares
  • Being easily startled and agitated
  • Fuzziness of the mind, including loss of memory and concentration
  • Dizziness
  • Rapid heartbeat (palpitations)
  • Your breathing is quicker than usual
  • Breathing difficulties or a choking feeling in your throat or chest
  • More frequent colds
  • Aches in the head, back and/or stomach
  • Menstrual cycle changes
  • Eating, drinking or smoking more or less than usual
  • Reduced sex drive

At first, you may also feel numb from shock, and that the event seemed unreal, like a dream or something that didn't happen. People often mistake a feeling of numbness as being uncaring - it is not! When you are ready, it may be beneficial to return to the scene, as this will help you to come to terms with the event.

Anyone can have these feelings and it is important to remember that they may not occur at first and may appear after a delay (if at all). They will also vary in intensity and duration for each individual. Expressing your feelings will not lead to a loss of control. It is healthy to feel and express your emotions in a safe environment to prevent them from building up and potentially causing longer-term and more serious mental health problems.

Depending on the incident, the local authority may set up a Humanitarian Assistance Centre to provide longer-term support to those affected by an incident. This is a safe space where more specialist support will be made available to you.

Privacy and support

You may wish to be alone, or with family and close friends. Be mindful that stressful situations can cause strains in relationships, but clear communication on how you're feeling and how you can be supported should help mitigate this. The feeling that nobody else can understand what you are going through is natural but need not be true. Creating new relationships with others who've had a similar experience can also help.

If you do feel the need to withdraw from family and friends and spend more time on your own, try not to withdraw too much for too long as evidence has shown that this can prolong suffering.

Sometimes the behaviour of others might be unhelpful, even hurtful: they may become impatient through not appreciating the amount of time your recovery might take. Alternatively, they might become upset because they cannot cope with the depth of your emotions or feelings. If this is the case, try to find someone else who can support you.

Although, talking about what happened can be helpful, no one should be forced to talk about their experiences. For some people, quiet time to think things through before they can talk about them is necessary.

Dos and Don'ts

  • Don't bottle up your feelings. Express your emotions and encourage others affected to share your grief
  • Don't forget that children experience similar feelings. Encourage them to share their feelings and express themselves, perhaps through games and drawings. If it is difficult for you to support this, enlist the help of a trusted adult such as a family member or teacher
  • Don't avoid talking about what happened. Take the opportunity to talk about the experience if you feel it will help
  • Don't expect memories to go away - the feelings will stay with you for a long time
  • Don't give yourself a date by which you expect to feel better
  • Don't allow others to influence you by telling you it's time you "get over it", even if they mean well

  • Do make time to go to a place where you feel safe and calmly go over what happened in your mind, but do not force yourself to do this if feelings are too strong at the moment
  • Do go at your own pace and try to get back into a routine
  • Do allow yourself to be part of a group of people who care
  • Do activities. Helping others may give you some relief
  • Do take time out to sleep, rest, think and be with those important to you
  • Do express your needs clearly and honestly
  • Do try to keep your life as normal as possible after the grief
  • Do send children back to school and let them keep up their activities
  • Do be more careful when driving and around the home as accidents can be more frequent
  • Do eat a nutritionally balanced diet regularly, even if you don't feel hungry

The feelings described above usually lessen in intensity and gradually fade as time passes. If these feelings are not falling into place after about six weeks, or symptoms start some months after the event, then it is advisable to seek further help.

Seeking help

Common reasons for seeking help include:

  • Thoughts about the event continue to overwhelm you in intensity and frequency, causing you to feel exhausted
  • You feel you must keep active to block out your feelings
  • You still feel numb about the event or if you sometimes have to pretend the event did not happen at all
  • You continue to feel a strong sense of shame about the event or your reactions to it
  • You feel you are becoming increasingly withdrawn from people and social situations
  • You are continuing to have difficulties with sleep and/or nightmares and feeling 'low'
  • Your work performance is suffering
  • You are becoming more irritable and angry and feel 'at the end of your tether'
  • If you've no one to share your feelings with, and you feel the need to do so
  • You find you are drinking alcohol and/or smoking more
  • Your relationships are affected
  • You're worried that those around you are particularly vulnerable or aren't healing

Remember that you will gradually begin to feel better, but if you suffer too much or for too long, help is available. Contact your GP who can advise what is available locally and the best way to access help. There are very effective treatments available for people experiencing the effects of trauma.

The mind, as well as the body, needs time to heal. Be kind and patient with yourself. There is no shame in asking for help and no need to be embarrassed by your feelings or thoughts.

Local support

You can find more information about local mental health and wellbeing support services on our Adult Social Care pages.

National support

Below we've linked to some national organisations that can help. We've also listed their phone numbers so you can contact them directly:

More information on post-trauma reactions

You can find out more about Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) on the Royal College of Psychiatrists website, here.

The NHS website also has information about PTSD, including symptoms, causes and treatment.

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