The ongoing bushfire emergency can be overwhelming and take a toll in many ways. In addition to the physical devastation, disasters of this scale can severely impact mental health. Eco-anxiety and climate depression are reasonable and increasingly common reactions to environmental disasters. Even without being directly affected by the bushfires, they can be highly distressing as disturbing statistics, footage and stories continue to emerge.
It is sometimes hard to know how to think, feel or respond to events like these, yet also difficult to focus on anything else. Here are some strategies for coping mentally during the bushfires:
Try to maintain healthy habits and routines. In the midst of large-scale natural disasters, looking after yourself may seem unimportant. Routines and acts of self-care – including eating well, sleeping regularly and exercising – may feel unnecessary or indulgent, but they are as important as ever. Maintaining self-care also increases resilience and enables us to be of use to others.
Reach out to other people. Disasters make some people feel isolated and want to withdraw. During events like these, you can be sure there are many others being similarly affected. Seeking and providing social support helps foster a sense of connection. Talking with others or even keeping a diary can help clarify your feelings, while also providing mental space for other thoughts. Try to acknowledge and validate your feelings, but avoid falling into despair.
Find a way to help. Feelings of powerlessness can be mitigated by finding ways to be useful. If you wish to contribute, you can donate money, time or any specifically requested items to fire services, animal welfare charities or environmental organisations. Money tends to be most helpful as experienced organisations can determine how best to allocate resources.
There will be a rush of donations in the early days, but once the immediate crisis has passed, rebuilding will be a lengthy and costly process. Even if you’re unsure of how to help right now, there will be plenty of opportunities to support relief and rebuilding efforts in the future. In the meantime, please look after yourself and the people around you.