Floods, drought and extreme climate events don’t only affect people who live on the land – it is stressful for everyone living in rural communities, many of which are close-knit, and often dependent on each other for income and social support.
Everyone experiences stress from time to time, but the ongoing nature of natural disaster events can lead to physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. Long-term stress may also cause more serious physical and mental health problems, such as heart problems, ulcers, depression or anxiety disorders.
Common signs of stress to look out for:
- Physical symptoms, such as headaches, difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite, aches and pains, muscle tension, weight loss/gain, chest or back pain, diarrhoea or constipation, injuries or accidents
- Always feeling tired, lacking energy or motivation
- Feeling angry, aggressive or irritable
- Increased worrying, nervousness, anxiety or fear
- Often feeling down or depressed
- Having difficulty concentrating or forgetfulness
- Disappointment, guilt, shame or feeling like “a failure”
- Feeling helpless or out of control
- Resentment or blaming others for the situation
- Withdrawing from friends and family, becoming distant
- No longer enjoying hobbies and interests
- Increased use of alcohol, cigarettes or other drugs to cope or escape the situation
- Thoughts of suicide or harming yourself.
If you are experiencing several of these emotions at the same time, or if they interfere with your ability to carry out daily activities, you should talk to someone you trust (e.g. partner, friend, relative) and seek help from your GP or another health professional.
Here are some strategies that can help you to manage stress:
- Recognise when it’s getting too much
Take notice of any changes in your physical health, your behaviours or your emotions that might indicate that things are getting too much for you. Listen to concerns from loved ones about your wellbeing or behaviour. Seek help immediately if you have thoughts of suicide or harming yourself.
- Talk about it
Talking calmly and openly to someone you trust about how you’re feeling allows you to release those emotions. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to someone you know, telephone help lines like Lifeline are also available for confidential support and advice.
- Explore financial options
List all of the income that you have coming in, and all of the expenses and debts. Then, talk to your bank or financial adviser about options available to you to better manage your finances. There are lots of financial assistance programs available to rural families and businesses during extreme climate events, which may provide some relief. It can also be helpful to get together with family members to create a family budget you all agree on.
- Visit your GP or health professional
Talk to your GP about your situation and let them know if you’ve experienced any negative changes in how you feel. Your doctor can provide useful advice on how to manage stress and also give you referrals to other services that might be able to offer support.
- Helping children and adolescents
It’s important to include children and adolescents in discussions about the situation and involve them in decision-making as much as possible. Help them to understand their responsibilities and reassure them that, although things are tough, you will get through it together.
- Take care of yourself
Eat healthily, get at least eight hours of sleep each night and exercise regularly (preferably away from work). Spending time with friends and family also helps to prevent isolation and loneliness. Alcohol and drugs weaken your ability to make decisions, often making your problems worse. They can also lead to mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, so it’s a good idea to limit your intake.
- Seek and accept help from others
It takes strength to ask for and receive assistance from others, but people are usually more than happy to help. Make a list of where to go for different types of help and advice and keep it in a handy place.
- Act immediately if you have thoughts of harming yourself or suicide
All thoughts or talk of suicide should be taken very seriously. If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, seek immediate help by talking to someone you trust, calling a helpline (e.g. Lifeline 13 11 14) or visiting your GP. In an emergency, call 000.
This information is taken from a Tool Kit produced by Lifeline. The full Tool Kit can be accessed HERE.