Normalizing stress and fear as responses to disasters

CBC Radio

Dr. Robin Cox, head of the Disaster and Emergency Management program was interviewed by CBC Radio's Daybreak South host in Kelowna.

Her interview focussed on normalizing the stress and fear that people experience during a disaster or emergency like the interface forest fires in and around the Okanagan. 

She outlined common stress responses and how those are manifest, and how people can cope effectively during times of uncertainty:

  • Being patient with oneself and others;
  • Adjusting expectations –preparing for the stress and  knowing that there will be barriers and stressful situations moving forward. The work of recovery may mean that you lower your expectations of self and others in other areas. For example, maybe your house isn’t as clean as it would be normally, and that's ok;
  • Taking breaks from the recovery process even if a break is as simple as going for a walk, or having coffee with a friend;
  • Getting support from those who care about you and letting people know what would be helpful since they don’t always understand what you are going through;
  • Getting information – knowledge and information are the number one thing most people want (it allays the uncertainty). Not knowing can add to stress during recovery, so one thing governments local and otherwise and organizations need to focus on is clear, accurate, accessible information and updates;
  • Moving forward/taking action to recovery – problem solving is considered an instrumental or active coping strategy. Acknowledging the struggles, and regaining a sense of agency/control and movement forward is healthier than denying the impact and emotions that come up or avoiding all together;
  • Taking care of your health — eating well, getting some kind of physical exercise;
  • Humour;
  • Finally – remembering that the recovery process is not always linear – there can be progress and then what can feel like backwards steps, or barriers. Recovery takes time.

She adds that for those who have previously experienced a traumatic event, new events can retrigger emotions and memories of the previous events. Knowing that this may occur can help and that if it is overwhelming or continues for an unreasonable amount of time, she advises to reach out for professional help and support.

Cox also appeared on CBC Daybreak Kamloops later in the week to discuss the same topic with their listeners.