Common Reactions to a Major Disaster

The following information was provided in a press release from the Department of Veterans Affairs regional office in Arlington, Texas.

Tips to help in the aftermath of Katrina and Rita

Following a disaster, people typically describe a range of emotions including relief to be alive, followed by stress, fear, and anger.

Common reactions to a disaster

        Feeling hopeless about the future & detached or unconcerned about others

        Trouble concentrating

        Jumpy & startle easily at sudden noise

        On guard and constantly alert

        Having disturbing dreams/memories

You may also experience more physical reactions such as:

        Stomach upset, trouble eating

        Trouble sleeping & exhaustion

        Pounding heart, rapid breathing

        Severe headache if thinking of the event, sweating

        Failure to engage in exercise, diet, safe sex, regular health care

        Excess smoking, alcohol, drugs, food

        Worsening of chronic medical problems

        Or have more emotional troubles such as:

        Feeling nervous, helpless, fearful, sad

        Feeling numb, unable to experience love or joy

        Avoiding people, places, and things related to the event

        Being irritable or outbursts of anger

        Becoming easily upset or agitated

Common problems that can occur

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)


        Self-blame, guilt and shame

        Suicidal thoughts—Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or visit the website,

        Anger or aggressive behavior

        Alcohol/Drug abuse


        In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, almost everyone will find themselves unable to stop thinking about what happened. Many will also exhibit high levels of arousal. For most, fear, anxiety, remembering, efforts to avoid reminders, and arousal symptoms, if present, will gradually decrease over time.

        Use your personal support systems, family and friends, when you are ready to talk. Recovery is an ongoing gradual process. If your emotional reactions are getting in the way of your relationships, work, or other important activities you may want to talk to a counselor or your doctor.

        For more information about VA care for those with PTSD, call the PTSD Information Line at (802) 296-6300 or send email to or call the Dallas Regional Office of Public Affairs at 817.385.3720. 

(The tips above are excerpted from the National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder's website located at: