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Rebuilding Hope Strategies

Rebuilding Hope Strategies

Rebuilding Hope Main Page | Strategies | Resources | Contributors | Download the Book as a PDF

Emotional healing after a natural disaster or traumatic event is a journey, unique to each individual. Rebuilding Hope After a Natural Disaster: Pathways to Emotional Healing and Recovery provides calming and coping strategies to assist survivors, caregivers, and support groups along their pathway to emotional healing.

The strategies in this book are guided by first-hand experience stories and organized by time periods and age groups. Choose strategies that best fit your needs. Healing looks different for each person. Take your time, try to be patient, and know that hope, however small, will move you forward in your journey.

First 72 Hours: Stunned and Numb

For Adults & Caregivers:

  • Take immediate action to ensure your physical safety and the safety of others.
  • Calm yourself by taking a deep breath. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. As you exhale, say, "I can handle this" and "Relax."
  • Seek immediate medical attention if you are experiencing physical health problems.
  • Ensure your family members or those around you know your whereabouts. Make a plan for how often you will check in with others, especially if you are leaving the immediate area.
  • Designate a "point person," such as a friend or relative who is capable of coordinating help for housing, donations, or other needs during this time.

For Caregivers Helping Children:

  • Reassure your children that they are safe with you and inform them of specific things you will do to keep them safe over the next several days. It is normal for children to feel confused, disoriented, or scared after a crisis.
  • Instruct your children to take deep breaths if they appear panicked. Show them how to inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. Count as they inhale and coach them to say, "I am okay" or "We will get through this" as they exhale. Try to remain as calm as possible, as your child will model your behaviors.
  • Tell your children where you will be at all times. If you are leaving the children with a trusted friend or family member, tell them when you expect to be back and how often you will be checking in with them.
  • Provide your young children with a comforting object for them to hold if you can access one. Hug your children frequently and give verbal reassurance.
  • Explain to your children what the plan will be at the start of each day. Continue to remind them of the plan throughout the day. Structure and routine can help children feel more secure.

For Adolescents & Teenagers:

  • Take immediate action to ensure your physical safety and the safety of others. Consider safe shelter, water, food and sanitation.
  • Listen to and follow emergency procedures. Calm yourself by taking a deep breath. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. As you exhale, say, "I can handle this" and "Relax."
  • Keep focused on the here and now to combat feelings of numbness or troubles with concentration. Think one task at a time, "step by step," until the task is complete.
  • Communicate your location and safety needs to your family.
  • Coach yourself to accept that it is okay to "not be okay." Feeling different emotions is normal after a natural disaster.

First 3-6 Weeks: Going Through The Motions

For Adults & Caregivers:

  • Make small choices each day. Take one step at a time. Focus on the "here and now" instead of trying to get everything "taken care of" immediately.
  • Follow a structured routine each day that is made up of manageable steps.
  • Practice deep breathing, journaling, or saying positive statements to help cope with daily stress. Remember that your feelings are normal and okay. (Think aloud, "I can handle this," "Stay calm," "I will get through this.")
  • Accept the feelings and reactions of those close to you, even if they are different than your own. Healing looks different for each person.
  • Maintain a connection with family and friends. Ask for their help in problem solving and coping with stress.
  • If others offer help, direct them to your "point person." It's okay to not have the answers.

For Caregivers Helping Children:

  • Praise your children for positive behaviors. Use words like, "I saw the way you put on your shoes, zipped your coat, and remembered your book bag. That is helpful." Or, "I heard you ask your sister to play. That is cooperating. Thank you." Remain consistent with family rules, rewards, and consequences that were in place prior to the natural disaster. This will provide your child with a sense of normalcy and encourage positive behaviors.
  • Allow your children to engage in calming behaviors typical of a younger child. Behaviors such as thumb-sucking or requesting to be rocked in a chair can be soothing at this time.
  • Set a regular bedtime for each night and follow a "bedtime routine." Before bed, engage in a calming routine, such as giving your child a warm bath, reading a story, or singing to help him/her relax.
  • Reassure your children in a calming way that they do not need to feel embarrassed or ashamed if they begin to have toileting accidents. Children may wet themselves or the bed more frequently after a natural disaster.
  • Limit your child's exposure to the news or media coverage. If your children want to talk about the situation, allow them to express their feelings. End the conversation in a positive tone by stating ways in which the family is safe, cared for, and healthy.

For Adolescents & Teenagers:

  • Follow a structured routine each day that is made up of small, manageable steps. Prioritize. Think: "What do I need to do first, then next?"
  • Return to activities that you did with family and friends before the event as soon as possible.
  • Practice deep breathing, journaling, or saying positive statements to help cope with daily stress.
  • Identify and meet your own needs. Share those needs with people around you. Ask them to give you some "space" if needed; however, avoid "shutting down."
  • Stay connected with family and friends to counter any desire to withdraw and isolate. Maintain your support systems of family and friends.

First 3-6 Months: Adjusting To Change

For Adults & Caregivers:

  • Talk about your feelings. If you find yourself not sleeping, short of temper, or have trouble concentrating, this is not unusual. It is okay to "not be okay." It can be helpful to share feelings of sadness, anger, or anxiety with someone you trust.
  • Meet your physical needs. Try to get an adequate amount of sleep, eat healthy, and engage in some physical activity on a daily basis.
  • Write down or draw your thoughts and feelings. This can be especially helpful if you have trouble sleeping or you wake from a troubling dream.
  • Identify unhealthy thoughts (i.e. "I will always be afraid"). Try to identify reasons why those thoughts may not be true. Create healthy replacement thoughts (i.e. "I may feel afraid now, but my fear will lessen over time").
  • Seek assistance and support from peers, family members, and community groups. Attend community gatherings, prayer meetings, town hall meetings, or other events that will allow you to reconnect with neighbors and friends.

For Caregivers Helping Children:

  • Encourage open expression of feelings through talking, playing, and drawing. Let your child know that his/her feelings are okay. Increase your child's comfort level through additional attention, verbal assurance, physical comfort such as hugs, and provide a comforting item such as a teddy bear or blanket.
  • Teach your child coping strategies such as deep breathing, writing/drawing, and outdoor play/exercise. These strategies can assist in coping with feelings such as anxiety, fear, sadness, and anger.
  • Provide a structured routine so your child knows what to expect. Have a regular wake time, bedtime, and try to schedule meals, activities, and chores. Resume your child's typical routine as soon as possible.
  • Provide the opportunity for your child to participate in decisions such as how to decorate or redecorate his or her room. Decision-making can provide your child with a sense of accomplishment and purpose in situations that may feel "out of control."
  • Provide your child with opportunities to participate in enjoyable activities and spend time with family and friends.

For Adolescents & Teenagers:

  • Remember that in times of distress, it is okay to "not be okay." If you are experiencing feelings of sadness, anger, or anxiety, do not be afraid to tell someone with whom you trust.
  • Take care of your body. Try to get at least eight hours of sleep every night. Walk or jog outside, exercise, or play sports with friends for at least thirty minutes a day.
  • Write down your thoughts and feelings. This can be especially helpful if you have trouble sleeping or when you wake from a troubling dream.
  • Identify unhealthy thoughts (i.e. "My life is ruined"). Try to identify reasons why those thoughts may not be true. Create healthy replacement thoughts (i.e. "I will build a new future").
  • Rely on your friends and family for social support.
  • Join a team, club, or reconnect with hobbies you used to enjoy.

6 Months And Beyond: Yielding To Hope

For Adults & Caregivers:

  • Participate in activities you enjoyed prior to the natural disaster or find new hobbies.
  • Set realistic goals for the future. Do things that help you recharge. This can help give you a sense of accomplishment and purpose in situations that may feel "out of control."
  • Define your "new normal." Life will look different in some ways after a disaster than it did before. Record highlights from each new day. Try to incorporate those highlights into a daily routine (i.e. "We now take time each evening as a family to share positive things that happen each day. This routine makes us feel connected and grateful at the end of the day").
  • Focus on your strengths and past accomplishments. Write them down. Reread them. This strategy will help you remain positive.
  • Keep lines of communication open with loved ones. Be specific and honest about your feelings and needs. Take time to reflect, journal, meditate or pray.

For Caregivers Helping Children:

  • Engage your children in activities and play dates with their peers. It is important for the child to have a positive outlet and opportunity to socialize with others.
  • Talk to your children about their feelings and fears. If children appear to be "stuck" in the past encourage them to talk to a trusted adult, draw pictures about how they feel, or write about their feelings in a journal. Younger children may act out their emotions through play.
  • Help your children define a "new normal." If your children are focused on talking about how things "used to be," help them name new things that are good/positive each day. Write them on pieces of paper and place them in a clear jar. Watch them increase with each new day.
  • Plan family fun nights where the entire family can participate in a relaxing activity. It is healthy for the whole family as a group to engage in positive and relationship-building activities.
  • Model healthy coping skills for your children. Eat healthy, get enough rest, exercise, stay connected with others, journal, and take a deep breath when you need to calm yourself. Seek help if you have ongoing feelings of anxiety. By doing so, you show your child that it's okay to ask for help when life is hard.

For Adolescents & Teenagers:

  • Set realistic goals for your future. Goals should be focused on things that recharge you. This can help give you a sense of accomplishment and purpose in situations that may feel "out of control."
  • Volunteer! This can be a great way to reclaim your sense of purpose and helps support others at the same time!
  • Define your "new normal." Life will look different in some ways after a natural disaster than it did before. Each evening, write one new thing that felt "right" or "amazing" that day.
  • Talk with friends, family, and other supports. Be specific and honest about your feelings. Re-engage with activities you enjoyed previously, such as going out to dinner, taking walks, listening to music, watching a movie, etc.
  • Remain positive by focusing on your strengths and past accomplishments. Take time to reflect, journal, meditate or pray.

Rebuilding Hope Main Page | Strategies | Resources | Contributors | Download the Book as a PDF