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Wildfires & Mental Health

Emotional recovery after a wildfire can be incredibly challenging. The stress of coping with the loss of a home, personal items, pets, livestock and other traumatic events can trigger mood swings, sleep disruption, and cause extreme nervous tension and/or depression. It is important for fire victims to be aware of how they are feeling so their emotions do not become overwhelming.

Protect Your Emotional Well-Being

Feeling emotional after a disaster is normal but seek professional help if experiencing any of the following:

  • Difficulty managing your emotions.
  • Trouble completing daily tasks.
  • Caring for yourself or your family.

Ways to Cope 

Reaching out to family and friends, seeing a therapist or primary care doctor, finding a support group, or connecting with a religious leader can all be helpful tools in overcoming or dealing with the psychological effects of a wildfire. Here are other ways to take care of yourself and your family's emotional health:

  • Find opportunities to spend time with other people to stay connected.
  • Talk to a trusted friend or adviser about what you are feeling.
  • Participate in enjoyable activities.
  • Take frequent breaks from cleanup efforts.
  • Exercise (indoors if air quality is poor).
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Write in a journal.
  • Avoid relying on substances like alcohol or marijuana for stress relief. During times of great stress, their use can be counterproductive and lead to more stress, anxiety and physical symptoms.

Helping Children Cope

Children will likely have a hard time processing the losses caused by wildfire and it's easy for parents to become preoccupied with post-fire recovery. Parents are advised to pay close attention to their children's emotional well-being by watching for behavioral changes and listening carefully to their child's questions.

Here's are some tips on how to help children cope:

  • Validate your children's feelings. They may be feeling scared, confused, or angry.
  • Be honest with your answers to your children's questions, but don't provide more information than necessary.
  • Provide opportunities for your children to talk along with other outlets for them to express themselves, like drawing or playing.
  • Limit their exposure to television news and online media.
  • Avoid irrational promises like, "This won't happen again."
  • Maintain the same daily schedule as much as possible (e.g., bedtime rituals).
  • Ensure your children are eating healthy food, exercising, and maintaining healthy sleep patterns.

Watch for physical symptoms like stress-related stomachaches and headaches, regressive behavior like bed-wetting, or if they show changes in demeanor. While these are normal stress responses and are usually temporary, parents may want to seek professional help for their child if these behaviors continue.    

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