In light of Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, and the wildfires currently destroying large sections of the Pacific Northwest, I decided to create a simple list of quick tips for persons struggling with weather and natural disaster related anxiety.
1. Get prepared – Planning ahead is one of the most helpful ways to reduce weather and natural disaster related anxiety.
Put together a get-ready-to-go bag with items such as; cash, copies of important documents, passport, first-aid kit, flashlight, batteries, a hard copy of important phone numbers, snacks, medicine, phone charger.
Storing bottled water and non-perishable food items in your home can also aid in reducing fears of possible extreme weather or other natural emergencies.
2. Keep the lines of communication open- Talking to loved ones, friends or coworkers by phone or through social media can provide needed emotional reassurance.
3. Avoid being alone- If you tend to experience excessive fears, avoid fretting at home alone if possible.
4. Limit tv/social media time- If constant coverage of weather related events contributes to heightened anxiety, change the channel. Put down your phone.
Hyper-focusing on weather dangers can lead to increased anxiety related symptoms and in more extreme cases, panic attacks. That said, with the only moderate coverage it’s possible to remain adequately informed about weather conditions in your area.
Ask a friend or family member to contact you if weather becomes severe in your area. If you happen to be among two-thirds of the US population who owns a smart phone, you can download a free weather app. Program the app using settings on your phone to alert you ONLY when an actual emergency is looming.
5. Distract yourself- Read, take a nap, do a crossword puzzle, do chores, sing the lyrics to Diana Ross’s -I Will Survive, exercise, or participate in any activity in an effort to help replace negative disaster related thoughts with something more positive.
6. Follow instructions - If severe weather or natural disaster is imminent AND your mayor, sheriff or local emergency management personnel encourages you to evacuate or find a safe place to ride out the storm, follow their instructions. If you don’t have resources needed to evacuate, contact local law enforcement in your area.
7. Positive self-talk- Verbally remind yourself “I am safe. My family is safe. If severe weather approaches, we have a plan to keep us out of harm's way.”
8. Don’t procrastinate- The wait-and-see approach can be dangerous and often leads to preventable anxiety.
Remember, all humans have fears. Experiencing anxiety for your own physical safety, the physical safety of loved ones or even the safety of strangers is perfectly normal.
Mild anxiety serves as a great motivator to take action for a pending emergency. However, if weather or natural disaster related anxiety triggers panic attacks, obsessive/unwanted thoughts or long term emotional distress, contact your local primary care physician or a licensed mental health professional in your area.
For more information about planning for severe weather and other natural disasters visit https://www.ready.gov/severe-weather.
Finally on a more personal note, my heart goes out to all those impacted by the 2017 US wildfires and hurricanes. May you all find the internal strength needed to survive, heal, and thrive.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only, and is not meant to diagnosis or treat any health condition, nor is it meant to be a substitute or alternative for receiving professional care from a medical or mental health practitioner.
Misti Luke is a licensed counselor in beautiful Broken Bow, Oklahoma where she maintains a part time private practice. For correspondence, firstname.lastname@example.org