When something traumatic happens in our lives it is a natural human reaction to experience resulting stress or even shock. Just as soldiers at war experience post traumatic stress disorder, victims of natural disasters or other catastrophic events can also experience PTSD in varying degrees. The level of distress depends on several factors including age, experience, mental and physical health to name a few. Obviously there is not much we can do to prevent our brain’s natural defense mechanisms from kicking in when such things occur. But there are certain actions we can take to minimize the effects of such trauma and lesson the feelings of stress and shock we may experience as a result.
Those of us who are actively engaged in disaster preparedness are already aware of the physical and economic threats we face today. We work to prepare ourselves logistically to ensure immediate physical safety by obtaining certain gear and equipment that we know will be needed in such circumstances. Being ready physically also contributes to preparing the mind for what may come.
Just as we see police officers, firefighters and paramedics undergo extensive training and disaster simulations to help them mentally prepare for their jobs, we see that these professionals typically experience PTSD less often than those who have not had the benefit of such experiences. We can follow this example and do our own version of disaster simulation with our families.
1. Try spending a day without electricity in your home and see what life would be like without power.
2. Pretend that some local disaster has happened and run through your contingency plan as if we’re really happening.
3. Do a mock evacuation of your home and practice your roles in such an event. Get creative and do something that appeals to your individual needs. Picture that whatever it is you’ve been preparing for takes place using a worse case scenario and practice your plan, your evacuation routes, family meeting place, etc.
4. Do a run through of what you think you might actually experience in such circumstances. If you have kids, include them – make a game out of it, make it fun so that they will be involved and mentally ready when the real thing goes down.
All of these exercises are great ways to prepare yourself and your family for what may come and you may discover some things that you hadn’t thought about before, thus giving you a better idea of anything you might have overlooked in your initial preparations.
Having a strong social network prior to and immediately following the trigger event can help prevent severe PTSD and lesson the negative emotional affects suffered by the victim. Soon after the incident is over, have a group discussion with family, friends, neighbors or anyone who was present at the time of the trauma and wishes to participate. Discuss what happened, specific things each person witnessed, how it made them feel, etc. Having this opportunity to vocalize emotions in a supportive environment will help to reduce anxiety and provide a feeling of empowerment.
This article focuses more on the mental aspects of disaster preparedness because it seems that more efforts are focused towards physical rather than mental preparedness. While physical preparedness is of the utmost importance in a survival situation, let’s not forget the fact mental preparedness can also ensure that you make the best use of your tools and plans already in place, and prevent shock, fear and bad decision making when a disaster occurs.