Emergencies and Mental Health

Go to: Stress Reactions | Take Care of Yourself | Take Care of Your Family | Find Help

Stressful traumatic events like emergencies are usually sudden, unexpected and can increase feelings of being afraid, anxious, vulnerable and helpless. During stressful times it is essential to feel supported. Reaching out to family and friends you trust can help, but at times you may need additional support to help you cope.

You can find information below on what to expect when you are experiencing stress reactions to traumatic events, tips on how to help you cope, and where to seek additional support.

What to Expect

Large scale disasters, local community crisis and public health emergencies are among the most stressful events people can experience. Stress caused by these types of events may cause stress reactions. Stress reactions briefly affect how a person feels, thinks and behaves. Stress reactions are transient and should disappear with time and support. However, when stress reactions linger or interfere with daily functioning, professional ongoing support may be needed.

Common Stress Reactions

Traumatic stress reactions can impact the way adults and children feel, think and behave. Children’s reactions may vary depending on their age and understanding of what happened. Some common signs for trauma at any age include:

Physical: Feeling exhausted, having trouble sleeping or eating, or experiencing headaches, rapid heartbeat, dizziness, chills and sweating. Stress can also worsen existing medical conditions.

Emotional/Mental: Strong emotions including shock, disbelief, loneliness, sadness, numbness, fear, anxiety, agitation, irritability and anger. You may also have difficulties concentrating, remembering and making decisions.

Behavioral: Behaving in uncharacteristic ways, such as being restless and argumentative, hyperactive or withdrawn, having emotional outbursts, conflicts at home or work, smoking, drug or alcohol use, and changes in eating and sleeping patterns.

Spiritual: Questioning basic beliefs and values, withdrawal from, or sudden turn toward, spiritual support.

Take Care of Yourself

There are simple things you can do to cope better:

Stay informed. Use credible sources of information to stay up to date on what is happening and potential ongoing risks. Avoid sharing unconfirmed news or acting on rumors, as this adds to misinformation, fear and panic.

Accept your feelings. Recover at your own pace and in your own way.

Take care of yourself. Try to stick to routines. Take your time, and make sure to eat well, exercise and get enough rest. Avoid smoking or using alcohol and drugs to cope.

Stay connected. Stay connected with family and friends. Talk with someone you trust and who can offer support.

Take a break. Take some time for you. Do something that will give you fulfillment.

Limit your exposure. If the event is in the news, set a time to turn off the television and computer, and put down newspapers. Too much time on electronic devices (such as a phone or computer) or excessively watching or listening to news reports can increase your anxiety and fear. Seek updates and guidance no more than three times per day.

Stick to routines. Keeping routines gives us a sense of control and can reduce anxiety. Try as much as possible to keep daily routines or create new ones, if needed, to help you cope with the changes. Take time to think about other important parts of your life, and remind yourself of what you enjoy and feel good about.

Ask for help. Make sure you have what you need to feel safe and comfortable. If you feel stuck or overwhelmed, ask for help. If you are unable to work, contact your employer and discuss any options for leave.

Take Care of Your Family

Relationship problems and difficulties with children are not uncommon during disasters. Different people can have different reactions to traumatic events and can have different needs for company during stressful times.


Children do not see and understand the world around them in the same way that adults do. Experiencing stressful and traumatic events can make them anxious, scared or confused, and they may require special attention and reassurance. They look to adults to explain what is happening and for guidance on what to do.

These tips can help you support your children during traumatic and stressful events:

  • Be aware of children's reaction to stressful and traumatic events so you can recognize them for what they are. Experiencing a stressful event can affect the way your children feel, think and behave, and they may show a variety of reactions. Their reactions may vary depending on their age and understanding of what happened.
  • Stay calm, as your reactions affect your children. If they see you extremely worried, it can make them feel afraid and insecure.
  • Talk to your children about what happened, answer their questions in a way that they can understand and let them express their feelings.
  • Reassure your children about their safety and that they are in no way responsible for what happened.
  • Limit their exposure to disturbing news and images by limiting the amount of television they watch.
  • Protecting Children from Disturbing Media (PDF)
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Elderly Family Members

Traumatic and stressful events can be even more distressing for the elderly because of weakened health, worries about the future, housing and financial insecurity.

These tips can help you support elderly family members during traumatic and stressful events:

  • Be patient if they seem confused or disoriented, and provide further explanation and reassurance if needed.
  • Make sure that they are safe and that basic personal and medical needs are addressed.
  • Encourage social interaction and activity.
  • Promote hope for the future by including them in the process of rebuilding your lives.

When to Seek Help

You cannot function: You feel unable to function or perform basic daily activities.

Your stress reactions linger: If your stress reactions last longer than a month, worsen or interfere with your daily functioning, you may have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a serious condition.

You become depressed: Depression is not the same as sadness. Depression is an illness. You may have depression if you:

  • Feel persistently sad and tired
  • Feel hopeless or worthless
  • Lose interest in things you used to enjoy
  • Have changes in sleep and appetite
  • Have trouble concentrating, remembering or making decisions
  • Have thoughts of death or suicide
You are unable to cope: You are coping in ways that cause problems instead of helping you.
  • Taking drugs or smoking
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Over or under eating
  • Engaging in other self-destructive behavior

Where to Find Help

If symptoms of stress persist or become overwhelming, you can connect with trained counselors at 988, a free and confidential mental health support service that can help New Yorkers cope.

988 staff are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and can provide brief counseling and referrals to care in over 200 languages. For support, call or text 988 or chat online.

Additional Resources