Persons With Disabilities

Stress Management, Disasters, and Persons with Disabilities General Public Image - Persons with Disabilities

Practicing good stress management after a disaster can lessen feelings of distress, especially when the experience of disaster is complicated by the existence of a disability.  Following are some helpful strategies for stress management as they relate to persons with disability.

Take care of yourself:  Self-care is essential in the effort to cope with stressors during and after a disaster. Eat healthful foods; get plenty of rest; take some time to relax each day; and know your personal limits. You also may find it helpful to learn relaxation techniques, meditation, or yoga.   At the same time, it is helpful to consider how self-care is influenced by your disability.   Try to bring some of the usual ways you care for yourself to how you care for yourself in the midst of disaster. 

Seek support:  It is often difficult for people with disabilities, striving as we do for self-reliance, to reach out to others for help.  In responding to disasters, however, reaching out to other people allows you to talk with them about the experience. Seek out people you trust, and spend time with family and friends.

When seeking support, remember that your friends and family also may be distressed about the disaster. Because of this, some of your normal sources of support may be unable to provide the help you need. If this is the case, seek out other sources of support.

Maintain routines: If possible, stick with your normal routine, making necessary accommodations for how the disaster may have changed your usual response to your disability.  Routines can help provide a sense of normalcy as well as help you maintain normal social contacts at school, work or other places you usually go every day.

Following your regular routine can also help you take your mind off the disaster, even just for a little while. Distracting yourself from thoughts about the disaster is a critical component for successful coping for many people.

If you cannot maintain your regular activities because of the disaster, try to maintain as many of your home routines as possible (such as mealtimes, family time, etc.) and engage in hobbies or activities that you enjoy.  Talk with others about how the disaster has influenced your way of managing your disability.

Engage in physical activity: Physical activity can be an excellent stress reliever for many people. To the extent that your disability permits, continue to engage in breathing, stretching, or exercise.

Avoid using drugs and alcohol: Avoid using drugs or alcohol to cope with stress. Such substances only provide a temporary "numbing" for feelings of distress and can lead to additional problems especially if your disability is the sort to require medication.  Using substances as a coping mechanism can lead to difficulties in family relationships, job performance and recovery from the disaster.

Consider participating in recovery efforts: Helping others, again to the degree permitted by your disability, can be a great source of stress relief for some people. You can help by volunteering in recovery efforts, such as cleaning up debris, delivering food to families who are struggling or raising disaster recovery funds. You may want to support friends, family members and neighbors by listening to their experiences.

Seek extra help: It is normal to experience feelings of distress after a disaster. However, you may benefit from seeking additional help from a clergy member, mental health professional or your doctor if these feelings persist for more than a month and if they seem to interfere with your daily activities such as work, school or family responsibilities.

Be understanding of yourself and others: Remember that others around you may be feeling distressed. It is normal for people to be more irritable in the initial period after a disaster. Keep this in mind when you are interacting with others, particularly those who may not have had too much experience in working with people with disabilities during disasters.

You also may need to have more patience with yourself. Do not be too hard on yourself if it takes you longer than others to recover from the disaster. Disaster recovery is an individual process.   Be aware too that the disaster experience may “wake up” some of your history around the experience of your disability, and try to sift and be clear about what part of your stress is related to the disaster and what part is related to your experience of disability.


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Americans with Disabilities Act homepage has numerous important resources for people with disabilities.  Concerns regarding legal rights, enforcement, accessibility and more can be answered here.