Disaster Fatigue and COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has influenced disaster response around the world.  Several disasters have occurred throughout the world since the pandemic began with cyclones in India, hurricanes in the Atlantic and fires in Canada being just three examples.  While there is an immediate local disaster response, there are significantly less volunteers than normal (Montano).  This can mean that it is impossible to meet the needs of disaster survivors.  This is partially because most volunteers are older individuals who are at higher risk for the virus (and as such they can’t participate in person this year) and partially because of disaster fatigue (Flavelle). 

Disaster Fatigue

Disaster fatigue occurs when you consume large doses of disaster-related news.  This can cause a host of physical challenges as well as foster increased cynicism, decreased compassion and empathy as well as an increased sense of hopelessness (Fattal). Disasters have quadrupled in their frequency around the world to roughly 400 per year and the constant exposure to current events can activate our brain’s fight or flight response.  The causes our body to secrete both cortisol and adrenaline to help cope.  This process, when it occurs repeatedly, can cause our adrenal glands to become fatigued. 

Adrenal fatigue can cause:   

  • Lack of sleep;
  • Anxiety;
  • Depression;
  • Headaches; and
  • Other physical and mental symptoms (such as heart palpitations, rapid heart rate, muscle tension, nausea, nightmares, gastrointestinal distress, fear, frustration, anger, irritability, sadness, confusion, problem-solving difficulty, memory issues, risky behaviors, numbness, poor judgement when making decisions and imposed isolation)

To combat disaster fatigue:

  • Set limits on how much news you consume in a day;
  • Turn off your device for a set amount of time each day;
  • Practice positive thinking;
  • Find reasons to be grateful;
  • Utilize relaxation techniques (e.g. yoga or breathing exercises);
  • Engage in regular self-care;
  • Exercise; and
  • Spend time doing something you enjoy regularly (e.g. cooking, listening to music, time with friends, reading, etc.)

Disaster response can be a long commitment and a person must be physically, mentally, and emotionally able to respond.  Understanding what typical stressors are during a response will help avoid suffering from disaster fatigue. 

Typical stressors include:

  • “Personal experience with the disaster;
  • Direct exposure to the negative effects of a disaster;
  • Cumulative stress from repeatedly hearing survivors’ stories;
  • Chronic stress from approaching strangers who may reject their help;
  • Feeling overwhelmed by the depth of others’ grief and sadness;
  • Feeling unable to alleviate the pain of others;
  • Woking long hours in difficult environments;
  • Lack of or insufficient supervision; and
  • Inadequate or inexperienced management and leadership that negatively affects staff”

(SAMHSA)

Ensuring that we are healthy in all aspects of our lives will increase our ability to help others in their time of need.

 

 

 

 

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