Compiled by Antone P. BragaProbably the most difficult aspect following survival of a disaster is in having to enter the realm of the unknown. Under the circumstances most people are not psychologically up to the task. It is very common to see people in a state of shock, confusion and helplessness. Those who are objective, informed and prepared may be more emotionally level and confident.
In the past, disaster psychology has focused mainly on the response and recovery phases of emergencies. I believe that addressing emotional issues of preparedness along side the physical facets is a worthwhile area in which to focus. The age old proverb is as true today as it ever has been, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Below are some recommendations.
Reduce the emotional impact of loss through these 7 simple steps:
- 1) ANTICIPATE – Consider the natural range of feelings people likely experience when they survive a disaster, which range from, “I’m overwhelmed…I don’t know whom to trust…I’ve panicked…I can’t cope…”; to the other end of the spectrum, “I’m well prepared…I’m competent…I’ll get through this…I’m in control.” Anticipate that helpless feelings and most reactions to disaster can be managed.
- 2) REDUCE ANXIETY – Emphasize reducing anxiety through good preparedness. Take on manageable projects, don’t spread yourself too thin, and learn to say no when you feel under pressure. Talking about preparedness for potential emergencies will decrease anxiety or panic. Remember, research supports that solid information is the antidote to panic. Be aware of using extreme expressions such as: must, always, never, awful or disastrous. Allow yourself some time to relax every day. When feeling anxious ask yourself what you can do to change that feeling. Know that having well grounded information is a way to decrease anxiety.
- 3) PRACTICE STRESS REDUCTION – Some methods to reduce stress are: learn to increase relaxation to a higher level, routinely take deep, regular breaths, take warm baths, count to 10 as a way to step away from non-emergency stressful moments, commune with nature, meditate, day dream of a personal relaxation scene, maintain good nutrition, adopt regular aerobic exercise, get massages from a skilled therapist. Another practical calming technique is to create a mantram—the practice of repeating over and over in the mind such as, “By night and by day, I am being prospered in my best interest.” This is most effective when dozing off to sleep—when the conscious thought is giving way to the subconscious mind. Repetition of the phrase has an immediate calming effect and is a way to program the subconscious to carry out an ongoing instruction for behavior even without conscious thought after a period of a week or two. The subconscious will usually sort out what is or is not in your best interest and proceed to have you act more in that way. This is also a tool for changing undesirable habits. Since stress-reducing methods take time to become ingrained, they must be learned and practiced in advance.
- 4) GET THE FAMILY INTO ACTION – Get family members prepared for emergencies. Discuss a plan of action, and have a disaster supplies kit: water, food, first aid supplies, clothing and bedding, tools and emergency supplies, and special items for medical conditions. Talk about the importance of being prepared. Remain objective and informative. Focus on active disaster preparedness everyone can begin right now.
- 5) PROTECT THE FAMILY’S ASSETS – The prospect of losing one’s home and possessions is highly stressful even if covered by insurance. Become accustomed to the concept that a property insurance claim is a business recovery issue, considering the family’s assets and losses to be the “corporation” that will need recovery. Adjusters on the other side of the table know they will be negotiating a business transaction, and so should you. To have that awareness beforehand can help protect your interest, and improve your negotiating ability.
- 6) MAINTAIN CONTROL—INSURANCE RECOVERY – Disasters are an experience of losing control…control over just about everything. It may help to keep a claim awareness/preparedness book handy. You can access insurance consumer protection—disaster insurance rights and recovery rules that can help lead to a more successful recovery.
- 7) A JOB WELL DONE! – Give yourself the reinforcement of a pat on the back and take pride in the accomplishment of being prepared. Preparedness brings with it comfort in itself. Remember that increased readiness is a powerful tool to promote self-reliance in a household, neighborhood, or community and contributes to an internal sense of mastery and confidence.
For further support visit: www.DisasterPrepared.net*Although the cumulative work of the psychology profession provided the nucleus, it is the need for disaster emotional preparedness and dissemination of information to the public that germinated the seed. The following references helped make this article a reality: “The Power of Your Subconscious Mind,” by Dr. Joseph Murphy, DRS, PhD, DD, LLD; Dr. Deborah Bier, PhD; Holtz Psychological Services, PC; Dr. Andrew Weil, MD; Justin Becker; Mind Tools, LTD; American Red Cross.