Learn about possible reactions to disasters as well as resources for survivors to prepare for, and cope with disasters or traumatic events.
Disasters large and small, natural or human-caused regularly affect people across the United States. These disasters can range from wildfires to hurricanes to mass violence and affect people directly as well as through exposure to media coverage of the incident. Often disasters occur with little or no warning. It is common for anyone who has been affected by a disaster to experience some level of reactions.
SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline
If you need additional support following a disaster, the Disaster Distress Helpline offers toll-free crisis counseling and support. Call them at 1-800-985-5990. Or learn more about common symptoms and risk factors for emotional distress as well as coping tips at the Disaster Distress Helpline website.
After a disaster, it is common to experience physical, behavioral, and emotional changes. Below are some possible feelings or changes that you may have after a disaster. It is common to experience these reactions in the days, weeks, and months following an event.
- Anxiety or fear.
- Overwhelming sadness.
- Anger, especially if the event involved violence. Visit the Coping With Anger After a Disaster page or download Tips for Survivors: Coping with Anger After a Disaster or Other Traumatic Event for more information.
- Guilt, even when you had no control over the traumatic event.
- Disconnection, not caring about anything or anyone.
- Numbness, or inability to feel either joy or sadness.
- Stomachaches or diarrhea.
- Headaches or other physical pains for no clear reason.
- Jumpiness or being easily startled.
- Trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, sleeping too much, or trouble relaxing.
- An increase or decrease in your energy and activity levels.
- Use of alcohol, tobacco, illegal drugs, or even prescription medication in an attempt to reduce distressing feelings or to forget.
- Outbursts of anger, feeling really irritated and blaming other people for everything.
- The desire to be alone most of the time, self-isolation.
- Trouble remembering things.
- Trouble thinking clearly and concentrating.
- Difficulty talking about what happened or listening to others talk about it.
For more information on common disaster reactions and how to cope with them, check out the SAMHSA DTAC tip sheet Tips for Survivors of a Disaster or Other Traumatic Event: Managing Stress or posters Have You Experienced a Disaster? and Have You and Your Family Been Affected by a Disaster?
Featured SAMHSA DTAC Resources
SAMHSA DTAC offers tip sheets to help survivors during and after disasters. Several tip sheets are available in languages other than English.
- Feeling Stressed or Anxious About the COVID-19 Pandemic? – 2020 (Spanish – 2020)
- Tips for Managing Stress During the COVID-19 Pandemic Wallet Card – 2020 (Spanish – 2020)
- Tips for Survivors of a Pandemic: Managing Stress – 2020 (Spanish – 2021)
- Coping With Grief after a Disaster or Traumatic Event – 2017
- How to Cope With Sheltering in Place – 2014 (Spanish – 2016)
- Talking With Children: Tips for Caregivers, Parents, and Teachers During Infectious Disease Outbreaks – 2020 (Spanish – 2020)
- Tips for Survivors of a Disaster or Other Traumatic Event: Coping with Retraumatization - 2017 (Spanish – 2021)
- Tips for Survivors: Coping With Grief After Community Violence – 2014
- Tips for Talking With and Helping Children and Youth After a Disaster or Community Event: A Guide for Parents, Caregivers, and Teachers – 2012 (Spanish – 2013, Punjabi – 2012)
Disaster-specific Resource Collections
Do you live in an area frequently hit by hurricanes, floods, wildfires, tornadoes, droughts, or earthquakes? For information on these and other disasters, visit the Disaster-specific Resources collection, part of the SAMHSA Disaster Behavioral Health Information Series. The collection includes resources on preparing for and recovering after specific types of disasters.
Other Helpful Resources
Plan ahead for disasters. Visit Ready.gov for information on preparing yourself and your family for disasters.
Visit the Disaster Financial Assistance webpage to learn about options for emergency financial assistance from the government after a disaster.