Coping with holiday stress after a disaster


The holiday season can be a stressful time. For individuals – and especially seniors – looking to rebuild in the wake of disasters such as Hurricane Matthew, the holidays may be especially difficult.

Taking care of yourself and staying in touch with your family and friends during the holidays is an important part of maintaining your physical and mental health as you continue to recover from the Florida hurricanes. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) notes that signs of disaster-related stress may include:

Feeling sad during a holiday season when you are seeking a new home or dealing with memories of a lost loved one

Feeling lonely, especially when holiday activities are reminders of happier times with those who will be missing from this year’s festivities

Feeling physically and mentally drained

Having difficulty making decisions or concentrating on tasks at hand

Experiencing changes in appetite or sleep patterns

Increasing alcohol or substance abuse

Establishing a comfortable routine can take time. To reduce post-disaster holiday stress, FEMA recommends:

Ensure that you have a safe place to stay

Maintain a balanced diet and drink plenty of water (too much holiday “cheer” can increase your stress)

Get adequate sleep and rest

Stay positive: remind yourself of how you have dealt successfully with difficulties in the past

Take each day one day at a time

Live in the present without burdening yourself with the things that you need to do in a week or a month

Additional ways to ease stress include:

Talk with someone about your feelings of anger, sorrow or other emotions, even though it may be difficult

Seek help from professional counselors who deal with post-disaster stress

Don’t hold yourself responsible for the disastrous event

Use existing support groups of family, friends and religious institutions

Honor your holiday traditions, but be flexible and prepare for new activities.

For additional help and support, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Disaster Distress Helpline at (800) 985-5990 or visit