Bushfires — resilience and recovery

By Dr Stephanie Hodson CSC, National Manager, Open Arms — Veterans & Families Counselling

21 April 2020

Headshot of Dr Stephanie Hodson.

For individuals who have experienced trauma or mental health issues in the past, natural disasters may trigger memories or emotions.

As a member of the veteran community, you may also be working hard to support others, facing new distressing experiences, losing sleep and working long hours.

Friends and family members may be worried about how their loved ones are managing the aftermath of the bushfires and wonder what they can do to help?

In all these scenarios, improving and maintaining resilience is important. There are a number of strategies we can use.

Stay connected to people who care

  • Maintain social connections and allow others to care for you.
  • Talk about events with those you trust and who can help you make sense of what is occurring.
  • Stay or get back involved with your local ex-service organisation (ESO). This provides connection to other veterans and the work our ESOs do to build resilience in our local communities.

Maintain your health

  • Remember to sleep, eat and drink plenty of fluids.
  • Do some physical exercise.
  • The physical care of your body will support your mental health and maintain resilience.

Build in time for activities you enjoy

  • Sometimes it can feel wrong to be enjoying yourself, but time out reduces stress and ensures that you are refreshed and able to help others.

Balance your exposure to media

  • Constant exposure to graphic images can be distressing. It is important to remain informed but this needs to be balanced with other content.
  • Social media can be an important tool for connection, but focus on content that does not make you distressed or angry.

Maintain or re-establish routines

  • Routine is important to having a sense of control or meaning in a day.

Take action to assist

  • This can be as simple as a donation to a charity or planning a holiday in the future to a bushfire-impacted area or buy online from impacted businesses.
  • Donate blood or plasma at your local Red Cross.
  • Get active in an ESO.

Practise kindness and gratitude

  • Take the time to thank frontline services personnel, the Australian Defence Force, our veteran community and other volunteers.
  • Take time to read the stories of courage, hope and recovery.

If recent events are triggering distressing emotions or post-traumatic stress symptoms, remember that these are symptoms that you have managed in the past. The first step to dealing with triggers is acknowledging the impact they are having and having a plan to lessen that impact. There are number of simple strategies you can use:

Exercise

  • Exercise is a quick and effective way to distract you from negative thoughts and manage emotion.

Relaxation

  • The Open Arms High Res website has a number of relaxation tools including controlled breathing, grounding and muscle relaxation.

Accessing social support

  • Identify individuals. Redsix is an app that allows you to identify and link to ‘Battle buddies’ to support you. Visit the Redsix website.

If you are struggling to use these strategies, it can help to talk to someone. You can call Open Arms on 1800 011 046 to get some hints and ideas, or visit the Open Arms website.

Helpful resources

Head to Health

Head to Health is a digital mental health gateway providing information on mental health resources, with a page tailored for veterans and their families. The site links to resources about recovery after a disaster.

Black Dog Institute

The Black Dog Institute delivers numerous mental health resources including self-help tools and apps to better understand and face challenges.

Phoenix Australia

Phoenix Australia provides information on how people react to and recover from trauma.

Australian Psychological Society

The Australian Psychological Society has some helpful tips on coping with natural disasters.

Emerging Minds

Emerging Minds has created a toolkit with resources to help and support adults and children experiencing a disaster.