Emotional Wellbeing

Mental Health

Ainsley Lawrence

Calm in the Storm: Navigating Anxiety Amid Natural Disasters

Natural disasters can stir up a lot of emotions. When we see them on the news, many people feel a strong sense of empathy and perhaps donate to recovery efforts. But what about when disasters hit closer to home? Well, the sense of danger and chaos involved often induces strong symptoms of anxiety.

This is a perfectly understandable response. Nevertheless, it’s important to find methods to manage your anxiety, for your peace of mind as well as your ability to effectively get through the situation. This isn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination, but we’re going to explore some approaches you might find helpful.

Prepare Your Home

When a natural disaster occurs, it can definitely feel like your safe space is in a pretty vulnerable position. One of the ways you can minimize the anxiety you experience around this is to take steps that enhance how effectively your home stays a safe spot.

A good approach is to be proactive with long-term preparations for severe storms and other disasters. Adjust your home not just to navigate short incidents, but also those that may last for several days or even extend to a couple of weeks.

Some of these adjustments could include:

Upgrading electrical and plumbing systems

Your electricity and plumbing don’t just help you stay comfortable, but they’re also essential for enabling you to refrigerate food, cook meals, and access clean water. Installing whole-house surge protectors blocks excess voltage during a storm from damaging your appliances. This prevents outages. You can also consider upgrading your plumbing system with storm-resistant pipes that withstand high pressure and freezing.

Establish backup power and communications

Installing an alternative source of power in your home reduces how negatively you’re affected if disasters cause grid outages. You could invest in a stationary or portable gas-powered generator to power critical appliances. Solar-powered backup systems are also becoming more accessible. Additionally, emergency radios and walkie-talkies help you stay in contact with family and the authorities should cell and internet service go down.

The more advanced preparation you can do to your home, the better you can strengthen its — and your own — resilience during a disaster. It will also give you confidence and comfort, as you know you’ve taken steps to protect yourself from the elements.

Minimize Panic During Disasters

In any natural disaster, there could be various things that trigger anxiety for you. Certainly, the threat of damage to your home and injury to you or your loved ones is a big one. There’s also a lot of visual and audio stimuli that can be pretty overwhelming. A key to staying calm is to take steps that help you avoid or reduce the sense of panic disasters tend to influence.

While you can’t control disasters, some people find that being able to maintain control over practical tasks helps reduce panic. This can give you something to focus on. Get to know the safety measures you should take in storm conditions. If you have to drive, go through safety checklists to ensure your car is in good working order before setting off. Driving under the speed limit not only allows you greater stopping distance but might also help you feel more calm.

At home, keep abreast of the progress of weather warnings. This enables you to take relevant protective steps without having to rush. If floods are expected, gather important documents in case you have to evacuate and switch off your main power supply. For thunderstorms and tornadoes, get your emergency kit ready and double-check that your gear is working, such as batteries, flashlights, and radios.

Another way to reduce panic is to remember to take moments to focus on your mental well-being. Doing some deep breathing exercises can put you in a more relaxed state. This might include belly breathing, which involves focused breathing from your diaphragm. You could also try mindfulness breathing, where you combine deep breaths with meditative practices. It’s a stressful situation, but simply being kind to yourself is a powerful way to counter the sense of panic.

Handling the Aftermath

The anxiety surrounding a natural disaster doesn’t always simply end once the main event is over. There may be a period of recovery, where you have to repair parts of your home or get some aspects of your life back in order. It’s also not unusual for people who have been through hurricanes and other disasters to experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It’s so important to be mindful of your mental wellness during this aftermath period.

Perhaps the simplest action is to actually give yourself the space you need for self-care. It can be easy to let your own needs slip, particularly if there are a lot of tasks to do or you’re helping other people. Yet, constant activity following a stressful situation and being exhausted can be a recipe for an anxious state. Take regular breaks to eat and just sit down. Getting some exercise can also be a great stress-buster. Importantly, prioritize good quality sleep. These things can help you navigate the mental strain.

In addition, consider seeing a therapist. A therapist gives you a safe space to talk openly about your experiences and how they have affected you. They’ll also help you find practical tools that help you manage symptoms of anxiety and trauma day-to-day. This might involve cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques that help you recognize unhelpful thought patterns and adopt coping mechanisms.

Conclusion

By adopting some techniques that help manage your anxiety, you’re likely to find you can more effectively navigate natural disasters. Some of these need preparation, while others are techniques you can use during and after difficult situations.

Anxiety can also be an individual experience. You might have nuanced triggers, symptoms, and coping mechanisms. Be open to exploring your emotions and the mechanisms you find most helpful. Above all else, remember that feeling anxious during disasters isn’t a character flaw. Rather, it’s another challenge that you can empower yourself to overcome and thrive beyond.

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