Wellbeing for people affected by an emergency overseas

Get support for yourself and your family.

It can be very distressing to hear about crises and emergencies such as floods, earthquakes or wars happening abroad, and to see upsetting images. This is particularly painful if you have connections, family and friends in those countries. 

Knowing that your loved ones may may be at risk from the impact of natural disasters, high risk security situations, or the danger of violence and persecution, it can be hard to focus on day-to-day life. People can feel worry, restlessness, anxiety, dread, guilt, helplessness and hopelessness. We might also have real anxiety about the safety and wellbeing of loved ones and friends, both here in the UK and elsewhere.

Events in our country of origin may also trigger memories of our own difficult experiences, whether that was the journey to this country, or experiences of war, conflict or natural disasters.

What you might feel

It is important to try and be kind to ourselves. As we connect to our own feelings, it is also good to think about what we may need over the next few weeks and months.

People may feel a range of emotions:

  • It is very common to experience feelings of guilt at having left loved ones behind, or guilt at feeling safe when others back home are not. When we feel guilty it is difficult to give ourselves permission to enjoy our own sense of safety.
  • We may feel sadness and grief.
  • Fear, anxiety and dread about events in our country of origin are also common feelings.
  • It is also very common to feel a sense of hopelessness and helplessness.
  • Sometimes, these crises can affect our capacity to think and concentrate, affect our emotions, and the way we think about ourselves and the world.
  • We may feel aches and pain in our bodies because of the stress we are experiencing. 
  • Our eating and our sleeping habits may be affected.
  • Relationships with others may be difficult. Some of us may not want to spend time alone and prefer the company of others.
  • For others, noise and groups or crowds of people might feel too much, so we may withdraw and want to be left alone.

Look after your wellbeing

All the things described above are natural responses to very difficult experiences, and it is important not to put a timescale on how long it may take for us to feel differently. Often these reactions will settle and some of the tips below can be helpful in managing these.

Wellbeing Tips:

  • Try and plan a routine for the day, it can help the hours pass – so try and have a routine for yourself and the family.
  • Plan time outside of your accommodation even if for short periods.
  • Try and keep regular mealtimes as part of your routine. Eat well. Good nutrition helps our mood. Try not to increase your alcohol use during stressful periods.
  • Try and maintain regular sleeping arrangements – getting up and going to bed at regular times. Try not to drink too much tea or coffee before bedtime. 
  • Keeping contact with other families locally who have found themselves in a similar situation may also be helpful, as well as linking up with other community/religious groups with similar or familiar culture and language. 
  • There may be other things you might find helpful, such as fund raising or awareness raising. 
  • Understandably we want to keep up with the latest news from home but try and limit the amount of time spent watching the news/social media, such as Facebook.  This can cause more distress and leave us feeling very anxious and helpless.  Try and limit this to once or twice a day if you can, and not before bedtime. 
  • If you watch the news, try and limit this to news channels that can be trusted.  Try not to forward alarming headlines to family and friends.
  • If possible, find some useful ways to physically exercise, try and find out where the nearest parks or safe open spaces are. It is also important to try to have exposure to natural light outside, ideally as early in the day as possible.
  • Be extra kind to yourself. This is a hard time for you. Try and treat yourself as you would a close friend.

When you need more support

You may need more help if:

You are having trouble managing anxious feelings.

These can make you feel dizzy or sick. You may also have trouble breathing or headaches, or feel your heart racing heart, dry mouth or continuous aches and pains. The anxious feelings may be getting in the way of doing what you need to do. 

You are having trouble sleeping.

Crises can affect sleep in many ways, such as trouble getting to sleep, waking often or waking up earlier in the morning than is usual. Sleep and rest are important, and not getting enough sleep can cause poor concentration, low energy, irritability and frustration. You may need some help with sleeping habits again.  

You are having bad dreams and nightmares.

After traumatic experiences, people sometimes have bad dreams and nightmares, or very distressing thoughts during the day. If these are very hard to cope with and stop you being able to do things you need to do, then you may need to get some extra help.

You are losing your appetite, or are eating or drinking too much.

You may find that you don’t enjoy food, cannot face a meal and start to lose weight. Or you may end up eating more than you want, or drinking more alcohol than you want to. 

You are having trouble doing things.

Sometimes, it is hard to do the tasks you need to do, for example, going to work, cooking meals, and looking after relatives and children.

You are struggling to keep going.

Sometimes you can feel that the hardships you have endured are too many and too big. You may have reached a point where the struggle to keep going is too much and life does not feel worth living.

All these feelings and reactions are natural and understandable because of crises occurring in your country of origin.  If you are having any of these issues, speaking to someone can make you feel less alone.

Consider getting help from a professional, such as a doctor or anyone else who works with you, who can advise what support might be most useful. This can help towards managing those traumatic experiences in a less distressing way.

Get more help from the Red Cross

If you have lost contact and are concerned about any family members following an event in your country of origin, the British Red Cross international family tracing service might be able to help.

First, please do try to contact family members yourself, in the way you usually get in touch.

If you are still unable to make contact, please email findyour_family@redcross.org.uk and give us your full name, telephone number and current location in the UK. A team member from the international family tracing service will contact you as soon as possible to follow up.

For other support you can contact the Red Cross national helpline on 0808 196 3651.


Get help from other organisations

If you are worried about your health call the National Health Service on 111 or visit your GP to share your concerns.

If you are feeling very distressed or suicidal, call The Samaritans on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org.

If you are a refugee or asylum seeker, you can contact the Refugee Council on 0808 196 7272.

Two girls like next to each other on a living room floor drawing on white paper with coloured marker pens.

How to support your children

If you are a parent or have responsibility for a child, the impact of events abroad might mean that you are more distracted, upset and less available to your child. It is important to explain to your child why you are upset and to reassure them that it is not about them or their behaviour. Use words they can understand and continue to provide warmth, love and reassurance to your child.

Encourage your child to play with you, their siblings or other children. Play is important in helping children work through past and current stress and experiences. and to prepare for the future. It helps keep some normality in their lives. Try to stick with everyday routines (mealtimes and bedtimes). And try to be available to listen to them when they want to talk.

Children may also have be affected if there is worry and upset around. They may experience:

  • physical complaints such as headache, stomach ache, lack of appetite.
  • being fearful and anxious.
  • difficulty sleeping, nightmares, night terrors, shouting or screaming.
  • older children may go back to bedwetting, clinging to their parents, frequent crying, thumb-sucking, being afraid to be left alone
  • becoming unusually active or aggressive or the opposite shy, quiet, withdrawn and sad
  • difficulty concentrating.

If you are concerned about your child then you might want to look at the Red Cross leaflet, ‘Coping with Traumatic Events: Children’.