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Recovering after a disaster or emergency: Care instructions

Recovering after a disaster or emergency

Care instructions

An unexpected disaster or emergency, like a flood, fire, industrial accident, or pandemic, can be stressful. This can have a big impact on your emotional and physical health.

You might have more headaches, stomach problems, colds, or allergies than normal. Stress can also make chronic health problems like heart problems or high blood pressure worse or harder to manage.

When talking to your doctor or other healthcare providers, let them know you’ve been through a disaster or emergency and if there have been changes in your health.

For some people, the signs of stress after a disaster or emergency don’t appear until weeks or months after the event has happened.

Coping after a disaster or emergency: CALM

CALM stands for: connect, accept what’s changed, look for the positive, and manage stress. These tips can help you cope and recover from what you’ve been through.

  • Connect. Your family, friends, and community may have activities that bring you together to share memories. Find ways to help others when you can and accept help from others when you need it. Connecting with others helps build hope and reminds you that you’re not alone.
  • Accept what’s changed. Making sense and meaning out of a disaster can be hard. In the first year after a disaster, it’s common for certain events like birthdays, holidays, or a change of season to remind you what has changed or what you’ve lost. Part of recovery and healing is to recognize these times and to know it’s OK to grieve.
  • Look for the positive. After a disaster or emergency, it can be hard to see things in a positive light. Making time for activities that you enjoy is important. Socialize, take part in spiritual activities or hobbies, or spend time in nature. Positive experiences can help you recover. When you feel positive emotions like appreciation or gratitude, your body produces chemicals and hormones that are good for you. This can help keep you physically and emotionally healthy.
  • Manage stress. Some stress is expected after a disaster. To help with your recovery, create a routine that includes healthy activities you did before the event. Try stress-reducing activities like walking or yoga. Physical activity can help reduce tension and help your body produce chemicals and hormones that help you cope better.

The things that help you stay physically well can also help your emotional wellness. To help you cope and recover after a disaster or emergency:

  • eat healthy food and drink enough water
  • be active every day
  • get enough rest and sleep
  • practice relaxation techniques that work for you, like breathing, meditation, doing something creative, or listening to music

Anyone who goes through a disaster or emergency will be affected and will cope in different ways. Watch for signs that you are not coping well and get help if you need it.

Warning signs that you are not coping well:

  • thinking about the disaster or emergency all the time or having flashbacks to the event
  • changes in your sleep pattern, like sleeping less, sleeping more, waking up through the night, having nightmares, or not sleeping at all
  • avoiding people or activities that you usually enjoy
  • using alcohol or drugs more often or in greater amounts
  • having thoughts about harming yourself or suicide
  • changes in appetite (like eating more or less than usual)
  • feeling hopeless, worried, or frustrated more than usual

Using alcohol, drugs, or gambling to cope, distract yourself, or feel better can lead to bigger problems. Ask for help to find better ways to cope before these become a problem. If you had challenges coping with stress before the disaster or emergency, you can learn new and healthier ways to cope. Use available supports and be patient with yourself.

Important numbers and resources

If you’re having suicidal thoughts, go to the nearest emergency department or call 911 right away.

Call Health Link at 811 to speak to a registered nurse.

Help is available. Most of the phone numbers below offer telephone support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The hours for text messaging support or online chats may be different.

Adapted from Mental Health Promotion & Illness Prevention Team, Alberta Health Services.

To see this information online and learn more, visit


For 24/7 nurse advice and general health information call Health Link at 811.

Current as of: July 21, 2022

Author: Emergency/Disaster Management, Alberta Health Services

This material is not a substitute for the advice of a qualified health professional. This material is intended for general information only and is provided on an "as is", "where is" basis. Although reasonable efforts were made to confirm the accuracy of the information, Alberta Health Services does not make any representation or warranty, express, implied or statutory, as to the accuracy, reliability, completeness, applicability or fitness for a particular purpose of such information. Alberta Health Services expressly disclaims all liability for the use of these materials, and for any claims, actions, demands or suits arising from such use.