Looking after your wellbeing during a drought

Emerging Minds, Australia, October

Resource Summary

This resource explores the importance of looking after your own wellbeing during drought, and how taking care of yourself also helps your children’s mental health and wellbeing. It offers tips to help parents look after themselves as well as their family. It has been developed with the guidance of family members with lived experience, practitioners and researchers.


Emerging Minds acknowledges that families come in many forms. For the purposes of easy reading, the term ‘parent’ encompasses the biological, adoptive, foster and kinship carers of a child, as well as individuals who have chosen to take up primary or shared responsibility in raising that child.

As a parent, you’ll have an awful lot on your shoulders as you strive to support your family through a drought. There are children to care for and finances to keep on top of, as well as your own feelings to manage.

The most important thing we can stress here is the need for you to be kind to yourself. Looking after yourself is looking after your child’s wellbeing.

‘Think of yourself as a bucket of water, where your water is your positive energy. If you’re always pouring out, watering others and taking care of them, you’re going to run out of energy and positivity, and then there’ll be none left for you or anyone else, including the kids.’

– Dr Andrea Baldwin, clinical psychologist

Your long-term wellbeing is crucial to the family unit, so don’t put caring for your own mental health at the bottom of your to-do list. If you need help, speak to your general practitioner (GP) or a trusted health professional. (Learn more about the role of a GP in this video.) They can work with you to figure out what you need and make a plan to put some extra supports in place. For example, your GP can set you up with a Mental Health Treatment Plan, which gives you subsidised face‑to‑face or online sessions with a mental health specialist (for example, psychologist, counsellor). If you find it hard to ask for help when you need it, Beyond Blue has some tips around how to ask for support.

Increasingly, you might feel hopeless, exhausted, overwhelmed, sad, angry or stressed. And that might make you want to turn away from others – out of shame, perhaps, or because you don’t want to add to their own woes. But during an ongoing traumatic event such as a drought, it’s more important than ever to connect with trusted friends and other family members. They might be experiencing the same feelings as you, even if they don’t show it. By reaching out, you’re likely to help them too. If you don’t feel like you can talk to your friends or family about your feelings, you could look for an online community of people who are experiencing or have been through a similar event, such as Facebook groups or Reddit forums.

Your child will need reassurance that everything’s going to be OK – that the drought will eventually end and that the future is bright, even if everything seems pretty sad and uncertain right now. You can provide this through open, honest conversations that are calm and caring; a consistent household routine; and by maintaining community connections.

Common responses among adults who are experiencing a drought

The following are some common responses among adults to the difficult experience of prolonged drought:

  • Feeling overwhelmed or like you can’t deal with day-to-day tasks.
  • Shock, numbness, confusion or uncertainty.
  • Intense sadness or grief, to the point of physical pain.
  • Constant tiredness or trouble sleeping.
  • No appetite or increased appetite.
  • Feeling detached from the world around you, or like things aren’t real.
  • Feeling like things you used to care about don’t matter anymore.
  • Despair, hopelessness or loneliness.
  • High levels of stress.
  • Anger, irritability or lack of patience.

You might feel bad if you’re managing to keep your family farm or business afloat while properties around you are being sold off. Or you may feel guilty if you get some rain (even the smallest amount) and your neighbours don’t; or upset if it’s the other way around. You might feel like you don’t deserve help because others around you seem to be struggling more, or you might feel like you have to ‘just get on with things’ because others around you don’t have time to help. You might also feel angry and resentful when other districts receive drought assistance but yours does not.

Another common cause of angst is the occasional comment from family and friends who mean well, but live in areas that don’t experience such environmental extremes or that don’t rely on the weather for their livelihood. Let them know that you’re managing the situation and that you just need their love and support during this time. You could say something like, ‘I really appreciate that you care and want to help. I feel like I know how to manage this so I’m not looking for advice right now, but I could really use someone just to listen.’

Along with these feelings, you may also find within yourself levels of resilience that you never knew you had, and even moments of humour and family togetherness amongst the enormous stress of the drought.

Drought and relationships

The prolonged stress of living through a drought can also take a toll on your personal relationships. You may be living, working and parenting with your partner and struggling to manage both your own and their emotions. Or you may be worried about your partner’s mental health.

Communication is critical during times of stress. Set aside a time and place to talk openly with your partner about your feelings, worries and frustrations, and give them the opportunity to do the same. Try your best to understand where they’re coming from, even if you don’t feel the same way. If you’re worried that sharing your feelings might lead to an argument, begin by saying that you want to focus on supporting each other and finding solutions as a team, rather than on who is or isn’t at fault. It might also be helpful to create a list of rules for the conversation, such as only using ‘I’ statements such as ‘I am finding it difficult to…’ or calling a ‘time out’ if you feel the conversation is getting too heated. The Raising Children Network has some tips for talking with your partner.

Tips for looking after yourself during a drought

There is no right or wrong way to respond to an ongoing traumatic event like a drought. But it’s important to seek support if you’re experiencing difficulties that don’t improve as time goes by. The following strategies can also help to fill your cup and support your wellbeing as you navigate the stress and uncertainty of a drought:

  • Make time to do the things you enjoy. Even just taking a few minutes to listen to a song that always makes you feel better, or 10 minutes to call someone you love, can make a difference. Doing activities you enjoy can lower your stress levels, boost your mood and help you to feel calmer and more capable of supporting the people around you. Planning activities as a family can give everyone something to look forward to and serve as a helpful distraction. Sports in particular can be great, as they offer an opportunity to connect with others and take your mind off the drought.
  • Focus on healthy habits. Regular exercise, eating well and getting a good night’s sleep are all key to our physical and mental wellbeing. But they’re also usually the first things to fall away during times of prolonged stress, especially if we’re focused on taking care of others. If it’s hard to find time to yourself, you could suggest going for a walk or a bike ride together as a family, or ask your children to help you prepare dinners for the week ahead. Giving your children the opportunity to make choices and feel like they’re helping can have a positive impact on their own mental health. And if you’re feeling overwhelmed, remember that even small changes can make a big difference to your energy levels and mood.
  • Try to stick to a daily routine. Predictable routines provide a sense of stability for both children and adults during times of uncertainty. Keeping daily life as ‘normal’ as possible can help everyone in the family to feel more in control.

‘The routines you are able to maintain during a crisis are the ropes you will use to pull yourself through, back to yourself.’

Dr Jenn Hardy, psychologist

  • Focus on what you can control. During times of prolonged uncertainty such as drought, there’s a lot that is outside of your control. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed, but instead try to focus on the day-to-day things you can control, no matter how small they might seem.
  • Talk to someone you trust. While it’s important to set a positive example for your children, it’s impossible to remain strong all the time. As we’ve mentioned above, talking to a trusted friend, family member or professional about your concerns and disappointments can help you to come to terms with the uncertainty of the drought. The more you can open up and talk with others, the more difficult emotions will (slowly but surely) fade, leaving room for a more flexible approach to dealing with uncertainty.
  • Acknowledge your feelings. Recognising and labelling your emotions can help them to feel less overwhelming. This is also a great example to set for your children. When you notice something coming up, you could say something like, ‘I’m feeling a bit angry right now, so I’m going to go for a walk to help me calm down.’ These conversations can help children to develop their own strategies for managing difficult emotions.
  • Practice compassionate self-talk. If you find things aren’t going to plan, be kind to yourself. Think about how you might talk to a friend or a loved one in the same situation. Chances are the things you’d say to them are a lot kinder than what you might say to yourself! Look out for any critical thoughts or ‘thinking errors’, such as ‘catastrophising’ (believing something is or will be much worse than it actually is) and ‘fortune telling’ (believing you can predict what’s going to happen in the future). Replace them with compassionate thoughts such as ‘this will take time’ or ‘I’ve tried this before and it helped; we can try again tomorrow’. Also notice if you’re holding yourself to any previous standards – of productivity, parenting, socialising, being – and do your best to let them go. This will make it easier to accept whatever ‘new normal’ you’re experiencing and find ways to adapt.
  • Learn to recognise the signs that you need some extra support. You can use the list above as a starting point but keep in mind that everyone responds differently to trauma and your signs may be more subtle. For example, if you’re usually quite driven and goal-oriented, feeling bored or aimless for multiple days in a row might be a sign that you need some help.

No matter what you have or have not experienced as a result of the drought, your feelings are valid, and you should not feel guilty or ashamed for asking for help. After all, your own wellbeing is key to your child’s mental health and recovery.

Where to get support

If you or someone you know needs immediate help, please call 000.

Healthdirect’s National Health Services Directory can help you to find a GP, counsellor, psychologist or other health professional in your local area.

Lifeline offers free crisis support 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can call Lifeline on 13 11 14, text 0477 131 114 or chat with a trained Crisis supporter online.

Suicide Call Back Service provides 24/7 telephone, online-chat and video counselling to people at risk of suicide, those bereaved by suicide and carers of someone who is suicidal. Call 1300 659 467 or visit the Suicide Callback Service website.

Kids Helpline offers free 24/7 support for both parents and children. You can call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, chat with a counsellor online, or send Kids Helpline an email.

13YARN is an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-run crisis service. Their Crisis Supporters are available to yarn whenever you need them (24/7) – just call 13 92 76.

The Raising Children Network has a comprehensive list of national and state-based parent support helplines and hotlines.

Useful links for parents experiencing drought

This resource contains content adapted from resources originally co-developed by Emerging Minds and the Australian Child and Adolescent Trauma, Loss and Grief Network/Australian National University as part of the Community Trauma Toolkit.

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