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Returning home and coping after a crisis

Practical tips to help you cope and clean up following a fire, flood or other disaster.

It’s normal to have a range of feelings after a crisis. Expressing emotions does not mean you are out of control, weak or having a nervous breakdown. Remember these feelings —even the most intense ones—will usually only last for limited periods. Some common feelings you may experience include:

  • Shock and disbelief, the event may seem unreal, or surreal like a film or a dream, you may feel detached and confused.
  • Numbness, your emotions may be cut off. 
  • Fear of death, injury or harm to yourself or family and friends; fear of being left alone, or having to leave loved ones, of breaking down or losing control; fear of a similar event happening again. 
  • Helplessness, a lack of control. A crisis can reveal human frailty (as well as strength). 
  • Longing for all that is gone or for events or plans that won’t take place because of the emergency or crisis. 
  • Guilt for not helping or saving others, for being alive and uninjured or for being better off than others.
  • Regret for things you did or didn’t do or weren’t able to do during the crisis.
  • Shame for not having felt or reacted the way you would have wished; for having been helpless or emotional or for having needed help. 
  • Euphoria the joy of survival, excitement or feeling close to everyone. 
  • Anger and frustration over what happened; at whatever you believe caused it or allowed it to happen; at the injustice and senselessness or at the shame and indignity of it all.
  • Disappointment, feeling let down. 
  • Hope for the future for better times.

These feelings are common and expected. Allowing yourself to express them will help with healing. Sometimes people block feelings fearing they are too painful, often by being busy. Constantly pushing feelings and memories out of your head may lead to loss of memory or concentration and fuzziness of the mind. You may not be able to express or deal with your feelings immediately—you may take months or even years to fully experience them. The earlier you are able to deal with your feelings, the sooner healing can begin.

Your body, as well as your mind, may be affected by the event—immediately after and sometimes months later. Your physical health can affect your state of mind. 

Common reactions include:

  • tiredness, sleep issues
  • shakes, dizziness, 
  • palpitations 
  • difficulty in breathing, choking in the throat and chest pains 
  • nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting    
  • muscular tension or pain, headaches, neck or back pain 
  • menstrual disorders
  • miscarriages may occur 
  • increased or decreased sexual desire or activity 
  • significant change in diet weight gain or loss 
  • inability to concentrate. 

Some people increase alcohol, coffee or drug consumption after an event. Accidents are more frequent after intense stress. Pregnancies are more common after some crises. 

It is important to maintain physical health, illness frequently occurs when you are run down.

Before returning home after an emergency, stock up on basic items such as non-perishable food (canned or dry), bottled water, medications, a torch and batteries. Some other considerations include: 

  • Fill up your fuel tank and withdraw cash (ATMs in the affected area may not be working or banks may be closed). 
  • Be prepared for a slow journey; road conditions may have changed and there may be detours in place. 
  • Keep listening to your radio for up-to-date information about the emergency and any new potential risks. 
  • Wait for the ‘all clear’ from emergency services agencies before going into an affected area, and ask the authorities if you can salvage items from your house. 
  • If you can, check on your neighbours to see if they are OK and need any help. Let them know if you need some help. 
  • Once phone lines are restored, let family and friends know that you are OK and can be contacted. 
  • Avoid wading or driving through flooded roads or waterways and watch out for broken glass, tin, nails and other sharp objects that can cause injury.

Depending on the level of damage, you will want to return to normal routines as soon as possible. There are some important steps to take first. 

Record the damage 
Take pictures of the damage, inform your insurer and request an insurance assessment of the damage. 

Secure your property 
If your house is uninhabitable, arrange to have it secured. Advise your power, phone, water and gas companies and your bank, and arrange with Australia Post to have your mail diverted or held. 

Using tradespeople 
Minor damage such as broken windows or roof damage can be easily repaired. Contact a glazier for window repairs and a licensed plumber for roofing repairs. 

Obtain three written quotes where possible for insurance purposes. Before engaging anyone, contact your insurer to find out what you need to do to request an assessment. Only use tradespeople who are licensed or registered and members of their professional associations. These tradespeople maintain standards to keep their licence or registration and adhere to a code of conduct. If you have any concerns about the conduct of tradespeople, contact the consumer affairs department in your state/territory for advice.

For more information on cleaning up your home after a fire.

For more information on cleaning up after a flood or storm.

Cleaning up after an emergency: wind and water damage 

Who is this for - People whose homes have been damaged in a storm, severe weather event or flood   
Brief overview - A major dilemma many households face with wind and water damage, is how and where to begin the cleanup. This booklet contains some useful tips and practical information to help households start the clean up—both inside and outside  


Returning home after a bushfire

Who is this for - People whose homes have been damaged or destroyed in bushfires
Brief overview - This factsheet contains some useful tips and practical information to help household start the clean up after a fire.


Insurance Council of Australia 

Who is this for - Everyone 
Brief overview - The representative body of the general insurance industry in Australia.


Australian Psychological Society

Who is this for - Everyone
Brief overview - Information and resources on stress.


Phoenix Australia

Who is this for - People wanting information and support on trauma and post-traumatic stress.
Brief overview - Phoenix Australia Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health promotes recovery for the 15 million Australians affected by trauma.


Beyond Blue

Who is this for - People wanting information and support for anxiety, stress and depression
Brief overview - Tips and resources to help you look after your mental health, or support your loved ones.


Headspace

Who is this for - People aged 12-25, or those caring for them
Brief overview - Resources, information and support for people aged 12-25 and those caring for them.


Lifeline

Who is this for - People in need of crisis support, for them or their loved ones.
Brief overview - A 24-hour crisis support life to support people and prevent suicide.


Smiling Mind

Who is this for - Everyone
Brief overview - A free mobile phone application of guided mindfulness mediations with special programs for children, young people, families, and adults.

Looking for more support and resources?

Coping after a crisis

Emergencies and crises by their very nature are disruptive and can be stressful.

Covid-19

What we're doing and ideas to help you.