If you’re feeling upset or overwhelmed by the bushfires, you’re not alone. These frightening and worrying images and stories can have a big impact on our wellbeing, even if you haven’t been directly affected by the bushfires.
During such tough times, communities often show their resilience and generosity of spirit in ways that can be empowering for those affected. The actions of these community members can highlight how caring people can be, even when things are really hard.
1. Gratitude for those fighting the fires
Gratitude has been associated with wellbeing and can help people to deal with adversity and build strong relationships. Turning your attention, even for a short while, to the things you appreciate in your life can lift your mood, and that of people around you. This focus does not take away from feelings of loss and sadness, which are a part of this experience for so many, but can help if they become overwhelming.
Many people have expressed their gratitude for the firefighters and their incredible hard work. At Lake Cathie, Hastings (in NSW), hundreds of people from the community got together to thank the firefighters and emergency service members.
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A simple way to practise gratitude is to say ‘thanks’ to anyone in your life who has helped you through a hard time. Call them up and tell them why their support means a lot to you, or write an email or letter describing how much they mean to you. Expressing your gratitude in this way can help you feel connected to those in your family and community.
2. Generosity of time, money and spirit
There are so many ways in which you can be generous – from helping out a neighbour, to donating your time or money to those directly affected by the bushfires. Generosity is a two-way street – it doesn’t just make the recipient feel good, but uplifts you as well.
A standout example is comedian Celeste Barber, who used her social media influence to create a fundraiser, raising millions of dollars to support firefighters.
Another example of amazing generosity is Melbourne-based Sikh Volunteers Australia, who have provided free food for bushfire victims throughout Victoria.
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GIVIT is an initiative to connect those in need with those who have. GIVIT lists items needed by those affected by the bushfires throughout Queensland and New South Wales. You have the option of donating items or funds to those in need.
3. Connection with others
There’s a lot to be said for the power of connection. In fact, research suggests it’s one of the most important factors in wellbeing. Surrounding ourselves with people who offer not only another perspective but also emotional support, and who reflect back our values and strengths, can help us during tough times. Connection can come from being open about your feelings, and providing a space for others to speak.
Taycee, a parent from Manning Valley (NSW), says that sometimes the most valuable help you can offer someone is simply to listen to them. ‘A phone call about a water tank might turn into a 45-minute conversation about how someone has felt since they lost their house two weeks ago. You can’t offer them practical help, but they’re just grateful you’ve spoken to them and given them the time to share their feelings.’
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Take time to check in with your friends and family to see how they’re coping with the bushfires. Even if people aren’t directly affected, the non-stop media coverage and discussion may mean they’re doing it tough. You could say something like, ‘How are you doing during the bushfires? Is there anything you want to chat about?’ Be a good listener by paying attention, asking questions and checking that you’ve understood what they’ve said. There’s more info here on how to ask a friend if they’re okay.
If constant news about the bushfires is getting to you, you could try switching off occasionally and making time to do something you enjoy.
4. Admire the resilience of communities
Above everything else, Australians affected by the bushfires have shown incredible resilience. Resilience is when we’re able to recover from difficulties, but it usually doesn’t happen overnight. It’s hard to be resilient without support from others, which can come from talking to someone you trust, or from other support services such as those listed below.
Erin, a ReachOut Youth Ambassador, says: ‘I focus on the good that is coming out of the bushfires – people helping other people. It makes me realise that there is good in the world even in times of crisis.’
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The Instagram page @spendwiththem helps to rebuild towns and businesses affected by bushfire through purchases. Check it out to see if there’s anything you want to buy, knowing that the money will go directly to those affected by the bushfires.
5. Communities banding together
It’s super-inspiring to see how communities are coming together to support each other during the bushfires.
The Douglas Shire (QLD) held a charity concert, Band Together Bushfire Relief, to raise money for bushfire-affected communities. A number of local businesses came on board by donating vouchers to be raffled off during the concert to raise money.
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Keep a lookout for fundraisers and events in your community, and go along if you can. You could ask the organiser if they need help with anything. Just attending the event, and maybe buying a raffle ticket or two, will help do something good in your community or someone else’s.
If you need extra support
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by stress from the bushfires, there are support services that can help you.
While it may feel daunting, a visit to your GP is always a great place to start. Tell them you need more support, and they’ll be able to connect you with a professional who can help.
If you’re looking for someone to chat to now, Lifeline (13 11 14) and Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800) are available to talk 24/7.
Lifeline’s 13 HELP (13 43 57) is a dedicated bushfire recovery line available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for any person needing support as a result of bushfire. To talk to a Crisis Supporter, call: 13 43 57.
For services that specialise in bushfires, check out emergency and disaster assistance for services in your location.