Coping through the Bushfire Crisis

18 February 2022

Our thoughts are with everyone who has been impacted by the recent fires and to those who have lost their homes. At times like this, it is important that we look out for each other. We want to be here for all Western Australians affected by the fires. Together we will get through this.

Communities and individuals affected by a natural disaster like bushfires will be experiencing unfamiliar thoughts and emotions that may be difficult to process all at once. It is key to know that any feelings you are experiencing are normal and valid. In going through such an ordeal, it can be difficult to cope with the practical, emotional, and physical impacts and Lifeline WA want to help you through this.

According to Lifeline Australia, each phase in recovering from a bushfire brings its own challenges as the full implications of rebuilding are recognised and addressed. Media coverage or alerts about similar events can also trigger a heightened sense of anxiety that may be out of proportion to the immediate danger associated with them for you personally.

Recognising your feelings
Reactions to a traumatic event are often more intense in the first weeks following the event. Usually these reactions ease over time, although you may experience some feelings for a longer period. You may experience:

  • Stress, anxiety, exhaustion, or confusion
  • Sadness, feelings of being overwhelmed or angry
  • Shock, or feeling ‘numb’.
  • Uncertainty about the future
  • Loneliness, isolation, or withdrawing from friends and family
  • Feeling physically unwell with headaches, difficulty sleeping and eating, and weight loss/gain
  • Resentment or blame toward others.
  • Increased substance use
  • Thoughts of suicide or self-harm

Read more about understanding your feelings here.

What to do in the next few weeks
In the days and weeks after a disaster, it is important to do things that make you feel physically and emotionally safe. According to Headspace, it can help to:

  • Find ways to connect with others, especially those who help you feel OK and support your wellbeing.
  • Engage in activities that promote a sense of calm and feeling grounded. Look for ways to include some routine into your day and try to re-engage with things you enjoyed prior to the disaster.
  • Explore ways to get involved with repair and recovery of your community. This can help give you a sense of hope, which is important to recovery.
  • Be mindful of exposure to traumatic information through stories, traditional and social media. It can be helpful to take regular breaks from the 24-hour news cycle.

Read more about what you can do to help in the weeks after a natural disaster that may help here.

Ways to cope
Recovery takes time. It is important to allow yourself time to process your circumstances and regain a sense of normalcy. There are things you can do to heal and rebuild.

  • Recognise when it’s getting too much - watch out for signs of stress and get extra support when things become overwhelming. Allow yourself extra time to get things done.
  • Talk - release your emotions and tension by talking to someone you trust. This can help put things into perspective. It’s likely others in your community are experiencing similar feelings so talking to someone in the same situation as you gives everyone an opportunity to feel understood and discuss practical ways to deal with the situation.
  • Develop an action plan - decide who’s going to do what and when. Summarise your financial situation and discuss your options with your bank to alleviate stress of any financial concerns. Having a plan will help you feel you are making progress.
  • Take care of yourself - eat well, exercise and sleep. Try to get back to your normal routine when you feel ready. Wherever possible, schedule extra time for things you enjoy or that you find relaxing.
  • Get help - lean on family and friends. Strong support networks can provide emotional and practical support. Explain what you need and tell them exactly how they can help. Make a list of places to go to for help. For example, where you can go for financial assistance and emotional support, your GP, and a helpline like Lifeline.
  • Consider professional help - If you don’t feel some return to normal after four weeks, seek professional help (earlier if needed).

You can read more about looking after yourself during a tough time here.

For specialised bushfire related emotional support, please call 13 HELP (13 43 57).

If you are struggling and need support for any situation, please call 13 11 14.

For more information on practical and financial assistance for those affected by the bushfire that originated in Wooroloo, please contact the Disaster Response Hotline for Welfare support on 1800 032 965

Written by Karen McGlynn

Image credit: DFES: Incident photographer Evan Collis