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Dealing with devastating events

Whether you were directly involved in a devastating event or exposed to it after the fact, there are a few steps you can take to minimise the impact of these events.


The mental and emotional toll from one or many devastating events can cause confusing and frightening emotions. These emotions aren’t limited to those who experienced the event but also to those who are continually exposed indirectly to these events. Instant news coverage means that we’re all bombarded with confronting images of natural disasters, violence, and terrorist attacks almost instantly. Repeated and ongoing exposure to these events can cause traumatic stress and leave you feeling overwhelmed, hopeless and helpless.

Traumatic stress is a normal reaction to abnormal situations.

Signs you may be overwhelmed

What are some of the signs you may be feeling overwhelmed by the current events in our community?

  • Shock and disbelief – you may have a hard time accepting the reality of what happened, feel like you are watching a movie, denial as to what is happening
  • Fear – for loved one’s safety, worried that the same will continue to happen again, or that you’ll lose control or break down
  • Sadness – particularly if you know someone who has died or been injured
  • Helplessness – the sudden, unpredictable nature of the event may leave you feeling vulnerable and helpless
  • Guilt – that you survived when others died, that you could be doing more to help or that you are complaining about other things in your life when others appear to be doing it so much harder
  • Anger – you may be angry with people you feel are responsible for the event or contributed to it
  • Shame – especially over feelings or fears you can’t control
  • Relief – you may feel relieved that the worst is over, and even hopeful that your life will return to normal.

If immediate help is required, call 000

If you are having suicidal thoughts, please talk to someone. The following services are available to you and to family members, carers and friends.

Suicide Call back Service - 1300 659 467
Free, confidential, support 24/7 from trained specialist counsellors (national)

Kids Helpline - 1800 55 1800
Free, confidential support 24/7 for young people under 25 (national)

Lifeline - 13 11 14
Free, confidential support 24/7 13 11 14 for people (national)

Beyond Blue -1300 224 636
Free, confidential support from trained specialist counsellors 24/7

Local psychologists can be found by contacting the Australian Psychological Society on (03) 8662 3300 (toll free 1800 333 497)

Local counsellors can be found by contacting the Australian Counsellors Association on 1300 784 333

Minimising your exposure

How can you minimise your exposure and deal with traumatic events?

Limit your media exposure and switch off

Don’t watch or limit access to the news and try not to check social media just before bed.

Try to avoid distressing images and video clips

If you want to stay up-to-date on events, read news rather than watching television or viewing video clips of the event.

Accept your feelings

You can feel sad, overwhelmed, confused and angry. Allow yourself to feel whatever you need to without judgement or guilt.

Volunteer your time

You might not be able to volunteer for the actual event, but there may be other ways you can support those impacted. Activities such as donating blood, comforting others, organising a charity event to raise money, can all help in some small way and help you contribute to something meaningful.

Connect with your community

Support memorials, fundraising initiatives or volunteer at an event. This often allows us to connect with and support people impacted by the event/incident, and can decrease our sense of hopelessness.

Exercise or get moving

This can coincide with disconnecting from media. Do something that gets you moving – this helps in many ways. We can use the time to reflect, connect with others, and get amongst nature. It doesn’t have to be exercise, use music, move your body, grab the vacuum or mop.

Mindfulness. Reflect. Be present.

Allow the thoughts to come and go. Acknowledge the body and physical reactions to your stress.

Reach out

Talk and connect with others. Sometimes it can feel easier to disconnect from the world and from loved ones. You don’t need to talk about what is happening. Go for a walk with someone, watch a movie with a mate, prepare and enjoy a meal together. Talk to someone you trust.

Look after yourself

Maintain a healthy diet, drink plenty of water and get sufficient sleep. When we are under stress, one of the first things that lose priority is our physical health, these few small steps can make a difference.

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