How to prepare for a disaster, emotionally and mentally


Today, emergency preparedness experts are finally aligning their work with mental health. It can be as easy as practicing empathy. “Sometimes it’s hard for scientists to be empathetic, but you can’t be a good communicator if you don’t know the feelings and values ​​of your audience,” says Jessica Wieder, director of the Center for Radiation Information and Outreach at the US Environmental Protection Agency. . Wieder was part of a team that reviewed more than 12,000 news and social media posts about Covid tests and vaccines to better understand how the public internalized and responded to emergency advisories. Their research hopes to provide insight into how people may cope with future disasters, especially unseen threats (a virus or radiation, for example) or chronic incidents (longer droughts or hurricanes caused by l ‘aggravation of climate crisis).

The truth is, there is no balm, amulet, or singular advice that can protect us from the dark feelings that swell inside when disaster strikes. But it is possible to find ease, clarity and courage to move forward. Here are some expert suggestions to help you overcome emotional whiplash:

There is no “right” way to react or recover

Disasters pull normalcy from below, and each person has a unique way of finding their place among the rubble. It is impossible to attribute an emotional response to a given traumatic event since all reactions are manifestations of fear. Silver’s research found that some people develop debilitating distress even when not directly experiencing a disaster. As such, Wieder emphasizes the importance of validating emotions – those of friends and family, as well as our own – even if we think they don’t match the situation. In general, people are bad at assessing risk, and talking to others can lead to arguments when perceptions of a situation don’t match. Recognizing that all emotions are normal improves communication and decision-making, and creates common ground. (Scientists have found that a feeling of being understood active neural responses associated with social reward.) Maria Cohut, a Medical News Today contributor who wrote on cultivate resilience, also recommends presenting disaster recovery as a transformation rather than “bouncing back,” which encourages people to embrace new possibilities instead of worrying about reaching a certain healing benchmark.

Disasters are a To treat, so expect some updates

Emergencies do not have clear ends; information changes as situations evolve over time. Most people are uncomfortable in a state of flux and may doubt information that does not provide closure. According to Madeline Beal, a senior risk communicator at the EPA, the evolving guidelines indicate that experts are applying what they learned as soon as possible. “Disasters are a process. People don’t like the idea of ​​science changing, but that’s to be expected, ”she says. Communication experts have also found that people respond more positively to presenting new information as “updates” because it suggests real-time context and is not at odds with existing knowledge. Remembering that change is part of the experience can help you deal with your anxieties.

Know your trusted voice

In an emergency, we naturally turn to experts for advice. While central authorities – FEMA or the CDC in the United States, for example – have access to reliable resources for large-scale emergencies, they are not necessarily the most effective messengers. “The reality is that people decide who is credible to them,” says Kristyn Karl, professor of political psychology at the Stevens Institute of Technology and specializes in risk communication. “For some, a neighbor is more trustworthy than the government. As disasters become politicized, the harder it will be to find a shared messenger that everyone will listen to. “

Disaster planners working with state and local authorities now work more closely with messengers such as community organizers and religious leaders who already have local trust. But most people are not consciously aware of who they see as trusted voices and why they trust them (this is often an intuitive decision rather than a deliberate one), so it is helpful to list them, to have an idea of ​​where they are receiving their information, and track any inconsistencies or discrepancies in their messages.

Help others

It’s easy to assume that disasters trigger anti-social and selfish behavior that leads to social chaos and more destruction. Yet the research constantly showed that people demonstrate increased generosity and prosocial behaviors during and immediately after a disaster. Helping in a disaster can uplift a sense of control and increase happiness. In addition to joining the hordes of spontaneous volunteers, think about how you can help address social inequalities in emergency response. Black, Latino and Brown populations are less likely to receive disaster relief, and the rise of informal self-help networks and local translation efforts offer alternative ways to come forward.

Plan ahead

The Covid-19 has rekindled interest in disaster preparedness. According to a FEMA household survey in 2021, 48% of Americans said they had developed contingency plans, a slight increase from the previous year. Yet, many people can find the task daunting. “Disasters are in the same category as funerals and living wills, it’s not fun to think about,” Karl admits. Wieder suggests starting with simpler logistics, such as determining an emergency meeting place in addition to the house; researching how to take care of pets (many people risk their lives to find their pets or refuse to leave them behind); the purchase of a hand-crank radio in the event of a power failure; and identify a common point of contact to let you know about other family members and friends, if it is not possible to connect with each other directly. Whatever the situation, planning gives you a sense of preparedness. We have a guide for emergency preparedness equipment here.

Today, I’m calmer than a year ago, but I’m still preparing for possible turns of events as our hellish race continues: a new variant of Covid, or the next wave of fires in California already expected break last year’s record. Fear and grief are always with me, but I have also found sweetness and resilience nestled in these difficult feelings. I move forward, a little more in tune with my body and my mind, a little more ready to face what awaits me. I hope we all will.


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