As the Far South Coast approaches the first anniversary of the Black Summer bushfires that devastated the region, a clinical psychologist has discussed what emotions and feelings residents may be experiencing as they journey through this significant time.
Clinical and consultant psychologist David Younger said people would inevitably begin to think about what they went through a year ago, so he advised communities to think about the anniversary ahead of New Year's Eve.
"Planning ahead of time creates an opportunity for people to give consideration to how they want to remember that experience," he said.
"An anniversary event provides an opportunity to start to process and digest a past experience. In order for people to recover they have to emotionally process that experience.
Never assume if someone isn't saying anything that they're coping well.David Younger
"There's no one right way, but often for people it's about using symbols and rituals that have meaning and they can relate to. They can use that as a way to come into contact with that past experience."
Also, he said for families with children now was a good time for parents to check in with themselves.
"What fundamentally supports a child's recovery is the health and wellbeing of the adults in their lives," he said.
"What children do is they look to the adults for cues and indications of how to deal with problems in their lives.
"Communication is so important, families shouldn't be scared to talk openly about themselves and how they are going at this time.
LISTEN TO MR YOUNGER SPEAK TO BEYOND BLUE:Preparing for the first summer after bushfire
"Never assume if someone isn't saying anything that they're coping well."
Mr Younger said people who live in a region impacted by fire can expect to find their body's flight, fight or freeze response triggered when summer approaches - once the weather changes, the grass starts to dry and the winds pick up - which can result in feelings of unease.
Coping strategies that can help include a calm breathing technique (breathing in and out for three seconds each through the nose 10 times), a grounding technique (holding something solid in their hand and squeezing it), downloading apps to their phone with muscle relaxation exercises, and finding social support by talking to other people.
Also, he encouraged people to have a bushfire plan as they should not assume a fire will not happen again.
"Really think about how they feel and how they will respond should there be fires," he said.
Mr Younger has extensive experience providing support and assistance to communities impacted by natural disasters, including with communities in NSW and Victoria after the Black Summer, and also visited the Bega Valley to host wellbeing, education and awareness raising sessions in the wake of the 2018 bushfire in Tathra's district.
Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Bega Headspace: 1800 959 844
Bega Valley Shire Council's Bushfire Recovery Support Service (Case management and person to person support for everyone impacted by the 2020 Bega Valley Bushfire): 6499 2345 or firstname.lastname@example.org