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Bushfires and small business mental health

The 2019/2020 Australian bushfires were some of the worst in recent times, and have impacted millions of Australians, including small business owners.

These fires have not only reminded us of the importance of preparing for future bushfire seasons with a fire survival plan but also how important it is to be mentally prepared and build resilience for the impact of bushfires.

How to mentally prepare for the bushfire season

During a bushfire, we need to be able to think clearly and logically in order to respond to rapidly changing conditions. However, this can be hard when we are in the middle of it and it is normal to feel panic and be overwhelmed. Engaging in activities that help control these feelings during a bushfire, and build resilience, will enable you to better manage the situation and emotions.

Thinking about what would happen and how you would react during a bushfire can be quite distressing, but it is important to manage these feelings prior to the event so you can better support yourself, your family, and your business at the time.

To mentally prepare follow this activity:

  • First, imagine a bushfire is threatening your area and think about potential physical signs of stress you might experience (e.g. racing heart, dizziness)
  • Secondly, think about thoughts that might run through your head at this time (e.g. ‘I can’t deal with this’, ‘we’re going to lose everything’)
  • Lastly, relax, slow your breathing down and replace these anxious thoughts with helpful ones such as ‘I have a plan, let’s follow it’ and ‘I can remain calm, so I can put my plan into place.’ Maintaining this level of calm and control over prolonged periods can be very hard, so remind yourself this is a period of time and soon you will be out of it.

Symptoms to look out for

Bushfires can be traumatic and it is normal to feel upset, overwhelmed, and detached following their occurrence. However, if these symptoms persist for over a month after the fire, it is important you consider discussing this with a mental health professional. You should also seek professional help if at any time following a bushfire you experience:

  • Loss of hope for the future
  • Panic attacks
  • Avoidance of things that remind you of the bushfire
  • Excessive guilt about what you could have done differently
  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicide

Tips to manage your distress during a bushfire

As a small business owner, it is important to implement some coping mechanisms to promote your mental health and wellbeing in this stressful time and focus on getting your business back on track. Listed below are some ways of dealing with the emotional impact of a bushfire:

  • Talk to somebody who cares about you: Whether it is a friend or family member, and whether they have been affected by the fires or not, it is important to share your feelings and concerns following a bushfire. Talking about it may help you better organise your thoughts.
  • Understand that you are not alone and what you are feeling is normal: if you have been impacted by a bushfire, it is likely that many members of your community have been too. It is normal to feel upset and overwhelmed following such an impactful event.
  • Maintain a routine: Depending on the impact a bushfire has had on you or your business, you may need to establish a completely new routine for a little while. You should try to maintain some structure in your day, as this will have a positive effect on your recovery and wellbeing.
  • Set small goals: These goals may be relating to getting your business back on track or improving your mental health and wellbeing following the bushfire. Be sure to acknowledge the progress you are making towards reaching your end goal. And remember goals shift all of the time and that is ok too.
  • Make time to relax: You have been through a stressful event and may be rushing around to get everything back to normal as soon as possible. It is important you slow down and engage in enjoyable activities too.
  • Look after yourself: Eat well and exercise regularly. Avoid the use of drugs and alcohol as a way of coping with stress or trauma.

Listed below are a variety of mental health and practical resources available to those affected by bushfires.

You may also like to look at the resources on ‘Looking after yourself during adverse events’ and ‘Building Resilience for Adverse Events’ pages.

Further reading

Mental health resources

Practical resources

Business fire ready kit

This booklet contains fire preparation tips for businesses and details what you need to do to be ready.

More Resources