(Guest post by Margie Bird, director of the American Psychological Association’s Disaster Response Network.)
As the start of hurricane season approaches, now is a good time to think of how you can successfully prepare to live through a major disaster. Taking a few steps to become physically prepared not only meets basic survival needs, it also meets psychological needs. Knowing you have food, water and a way to find shelter provides a sense of control and confidence about your ability to survive. People are calmer and able to think more clearly when they have a good plan to follow.
The Red Cross and FEMA have terrific, easy-to-follow advice on getting a kit, making a plan and staying informed. Small steps when made ahead can make a big difference. We learned from Hurricane Katrina that even having important phone numbers written down in a notebook or card and kept in a purse or wallet can help if cell phones get lost or service goes down.
Preparing Emotionally for a Disaster
Anticipating possible feelings or thoughts in the midst of a disaster is also important. If you’re likely to feel anxious, overwhelmed or some other very common emotion, you can begin to generate some ideas and strategies to not let those feelings overtake you. Having likely survived past anxiety-producing situations, you probably have some good coping skills that could come in handy. Techniques like taking deep breaths, envisioning happier occasions or people, or thinking positively about your strengths and abilities can keep you focused on the tasks at hand and help you feel more emotionally steady.
You can also begin to strengthen your resilience skills to more effectively manage adversity and move in a positive direction. These longer term steps can include developing supportive relationships, taking good care of your health, looking for opportunities to grow and learn, and striving for an optimistic outlook. Building resilience sets you up for healthy, happy living so that when disasters occur you’re better able to take them in stride.
Keeping Control of What You Can
It’s human nature to think the odds are in our favor that disasters won’t strike. The reality is that at some point we all face some type of emergency for which a little advanced planning can be enormously helpful. Disasters may be out of our control, but each of us has ultimate control over our preparations and responses.
By preparing to manage hurricane season successfully, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Margie Bird is the director of APA’s Disaster Response Network, a program for psychologists to help communities prepare for, respond to and recover from disaster. Read more about how psychologists help at disasters.