Skip to content


Managing stress

Be aware of stress symptoms after an emergency

On this page

  • Case study
  • Seeking counselling
  • Coping with stress in your community
  • Why people become anxious or angry
  • How to interact effectively with emotional people

Most people recover well from a crisis while some need specialised help.

Personal recovery can take some time. It may be months rather than weeks before a person feels a sense of returning to normal again. People will respond to crises at different times and in different ways. Some people will feel the greatest impact immediately afterwards. Others will feel it more than six months after the event.

The more people are aware of the symptoms of stress after an emergency, the more likely it is they can do something about them.

Case Study: Parkgate Resort (Halls Gap)

"One thing that I noticed in the months following the fires was the grieving process that the community went through. People were really hurting. It helps to know a few pointers on what to look out for when something like this happens - to help us to cope with our own feelings but also to understand others better when they perhaps behave in unexpected ways."

Samantha Magill, Former Owner, Parkgate Resort, Halls Gap

Seeking counselling

Counselling can be a good way to get discuss your concerns and sort through them with someone who is not part of your family or friendship circles.

An emergency that affects a whole area is likely to attract the provision of counselling services by the State Government for those affected. Details on the services available will be communicated by emergency service organisations, the media or local councils.

If an incident affects only one or a small number of businesses, you should make sure counselling is available for owners, managers and staff.

Details of services and more information can be obtained from your general practitioner, local community health centre or local community mental health service.

Stress in your community

Adapted from Managing Emotions in Emergencies - for people working with affected communities by the Department of Human Services (DHS).

As a business person in your local community, you will often be involved in community meetings or working with others to assist the recovery process. An awareness of how members of a community may respond to an emergency can be helpful, especially if people behave in challenging ways.

Emergencies pose threats to people, their property and environment. They are associated with uncertainty about the threat and what will keep them safe. In dangerous situations, uncertainty becomes a threat in itself and results in affected people becoming highly emotional.

Why people become anxious or angry

High arousal caused by exposure to an emergency event causes bodily and mental tension that needs to be relieved. This is done in three ways:

  1. Survival-oriented activity relieves tension by acting to reduce threat. An aroused person has increased energy, strength, perception and emotional toughness.
  2. Tension may be changed into anxiety or fearfulness with uncertainty, need for reassurance or guidance, tearfulness, trembling, lack of confidence, reliance on others, difficulty thinking clearly or making decisions. Anxiety undermines a person's sense of their competence. It's a threat in itself, keeps arousal up and leads to a need for reassurance that may not be available.
  3. Tension may be released as anger. Anger is a survival emotion that increases certainty (often unrealistically) by finding a focus and assigning blame and responsibility. Since anger at natural forces, God or the weather is not effective, anger is directed to people with responsibility instead.

Interacting with emotional people

Anxiety is reduced by reassurance, and certainty about what is unknown. If people can't be given information to reduce their anxiety, then any certainty that can be given will help.

  • Information about assistance (accommodation, financial needs, communication with family) reduces arousal. 
  • Emotional support helps people tolerate anxiety.
  • Don't give justifications or retaliate to unfair accusations – they further aggravate the anger.
  • Tension is relieved when angry or anxious people feel they are communicating their concerns – the first priority is to reduce the level of emotion by hearing the person out, allowing them to say freely what is on their mind. Receiving the information absorbs anxiety, anger and hostility.
  • Respect their worries, fears and grievances by saying so, and by body language showing you're listening. Letting people talk is the best way for them to calm down and start thinking clearly. You help them without saying too much yourself.

Find out more about caring for yourself and others during or after a crisis.