Coping with the Stress of
Wildfire Smoke

Smoke from a wildfire can be a stressful reminder of a nearby threat. Even if there is no immediate danger, smoke
from distant fires can be in the air for days or even weeks. Smoke can cause stress by limiting your daily outdoor
activities, isolating you from friends and family, and disrupting your daily routines. Smoke can also trigger
negative memories of other fires. Paying attention to how you and your loved ones are feeling, and knowing the
steps to reduce your smoke exposure can help you effectively cope with the stress of smoke.

Common signs of stress

Stress can look different in different people.

Some signs to look out for include:

	Feelings of worry, frustration, anger, or

Loss of appetite.

Tiredness or loss of energy.

Trouble concentrating or making decisions.
Nightmares and trouble sleeping.

Headaches, upset stomach, and skin rashes.
Worsening of chronic health problems.

More use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs.

In children, this could also include:

	Clinging, fears, acting like a younger child.

	Uncooperative behaviors, irritability.

If any of these reactions interfere with your daily
activities for several days, contact your
healthcare professional. If you or someone you
love is in crisis, call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline
at 988.

Steps to care for yourself

	Take care of your body: eat healthy, stay
hydrated, get plenty of sleep, and exercise
when and where it would be healthy for you
to do so.

	Connect: share your feelings and keep in
touch with friends and family members.

	If your community has cleaner air spaces,
such as the library or a shopping mall, plan to
spend time with people there.

	Take breaks: make time to unwind and do the
things you enjoy.

	Ask for help: talk with counselors, health
professionals, or someone else you trust
about your feelings and concerns.

Steps to reduce your smoke exposure

	Stay informed. Listen to or read local Air
Quality Index (AQI) reports and updates on
fires and smoke from air quality or fire

	When smoke is present, check the Fire and
Smoke Map and look for Smoke Outlooks for
your area.

	Take steps to reduce your smoke exposure.
Check the AQI daily for forecast and current
air quality information to decide when you
can be active outdoors.

	Air quality can change rapidly. Don't see or
smell smoke? It may be a good time to go

	Exercise indoors if your indoor air is cleaner
than outdoor air.

	Keep your indoor air at home as clean as

	Consider creating a clean room at home,
especially if children, older adults, pregnant
people, or people with heart or lung disease
live there.

 If indoor air quality in other places where you
spend time is poor, have a plan for how you
can reduce your smoke exposure.

 Monitor children's exposure to media and
social media coverage of the event and talk
with them about information that they may

Steps to care for children

 Review your family's safety plans. Reassure
children that you have a plan to keep them

 Make sure to access the mental health
resources you need to process your own
emotions. Children pick up on how adults are

 Use the AQI forecast and current air quality
information to plan children's outdoor activity
when air quality is better.

 Be a role model. Modeling calm behaviors is
important in stressful times because children
will take their cues from you. It can be
extremely stressful for children if living
conditions change.

 Help children meet up with friends in places
with cleaner indoor air.

 Coordinate with children's care provider if you
have concerns about their smoke exposure or
how they are coping at school or during

 Keep children active and engaged in their
normal activities as much as possible.

 Respond to questions openly and honestly.
Keep your responses simple and appropriate
for each child's age.

 Review age-appropriate information for

helping kids through disasters at The National
Child Trauma and Stress Network website
listed below.

For More Information:

Coping with a Disaster or Traumatic Event: https://emergency.cdc.gov/coping/index.asp
Using the Air Quality Index: https://www.airnow.gov/aqi/aqi-basics/using-air-quality-index/

AirNow Fire and Smoke Map: https://fire.airnow.gov/

Wildfires and Indoor Air Quality (IAQ): https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/wildfires-and-indoor-air-

Reduce Your Smoke Exposure factsheet: https://www.airnow.gov/publications/wildfire-guide-

Other Wildfire Guide factsheets: https://www.airnow.gov/wildfire-guide-factsheets/

Resources for Children and Adults Who Care for Them:

Helping Children Cope with Disaster: https://www.ready.gov/sites/default/files/2019-
07/helping children cope.pdf

Helping Children Impacted by Wildfires factsheet (NCSTN): https://www.nctsn.org/resources/parent-

Help Kids Cope app (NCSTN): https://www.nctsn.org/resources/help-kids-cope
Ready Wrigley children's books: https://www.cdc.gov/cpr/readywrigley/books.htm

Why is Coco Red? children's book: https://www.airnow.gov/publications/why-is-coco-red/why-is-coco-red-

United States
Environmental Protection

March 2023