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When Disaster Strikes: Preparing to Rebuild

Developing a resilient mindset is essential for surviving disasters.

Key points

  • After a catastrophe, it is important to nurture inner strength to keep going and develop resilience.
  • Allowing your emotions to move through you can help them subside so that you can move on.
  • Having compassion for yourself and your struggles can help you accept assistance from others and be kind to yourself.

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.

—From "The Rainy Day" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 CC0 public domain/PxHere
Source: CC0 public domain/PxHere

I recently joined the increasing ranks of those affected by natural disasters when my house was flooded by the remnants of Hurricane Ida. But even those who have not been victims of natural disasters have often had to cope with other kinds of catastrophes, such as financial devastation, serious medical illness, or the ruinous end of a long-term relationship. When feeling overwhelmed by such circumstances, people often act emotionally and reflexively, which may or may not be helpful.

In the moment, it is often best to take immediate action to lessen the negative impact of the situation as much as possible. Save what’s most valuable to you – grab sentimental jewelry from your burning house or take care to attend to the needs of your children as your marriage collapses.

After a catastrophic event (or near the beginning of a long-term calamity), it is important to nurture personal, inner strength to keep going and to develop resilience. If you are able to fully appreciate how upsetting the situation is, you will feel empathy and compassion for yourself. If you’re inclined to self-flagellate for struggling, try looking at others in similar situations. Notice how you have compassion for them? Try applying that perspective to yourself. With this compassionate self-awareness, you can respond to your challenges in ways that are inwardly healing and externally constructive, going forward.

Allow for the pain

Feeling distressed and overwhelmed are natural reactions when blindsided by a disaster. If you allow these emotions to move through you — as a storm moves through a city — they will eventually subside. Trying to avoid the pain often just pushes it under the surface. It can still wreak havoc, but you may not realize the cause of struggles like anxiety, depression, overeating, or excessive drinking.

In allowing yourself to feel distressed, it is important to view your reaction with compassion. All people who endure disasters deserve empathy and compassion. And by viewing yourself with compassionate self-awareness, you can help yourself heal.

Accept help

All too often, when people are in dire circumstances, they are not comfortable accepting help. They deny the need. They don’t want to trouble others. Or, they think it means something bad about them. But once you open yourself to compassion, you will be more open to believing that you deserve relief from your struggles. A simple “thank you” may be all you need to say when someone offers a helping hand. Or, you may find that the support you really need is just a phone call away.

No one expects or chooses to be hit by a disaster. And it’s never easy to make it through. But by developing compassionate self-awareness, you can be more resilient. You can support yourself emotionally, accept help from others, and take a proactive approach to moving forward.

(To learn more about coping with disaster, see my brief video on this topic.)

More from Leslie Becker-Phelps Ph.D.
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