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    Managing Through a Storm

    By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD


    As I write this, the authorities are estimating that 50 million people may lose power due to Hurricane Sandy. So, they are working to get the word out about the need to prepare. Instilling enough concern in people for them to take appropriate action is essential in limiting the ensuing problems. However, many people react with high anxiety or panic; which is not good for them or people around them.

    When people panic or become highly anxious, their fear replaces clear thinking. This can lead to inaction (a kind of emotional paralysis), emotional and problematic decision-making, and unnecessary distress. All of this interferes with effective responding; such as carefully gathering needed emergency supplies.

    Unfortunately, panic and fear can spread through communities and mount like a growing tidal wave.  So, it’s important to remember your actions and reactions affect those around you – family, friends, and especially children. Children take in how the adults around them respond to emergencies, such as is being created by hurricane Sandy. They might panic and even fear death; responses that can be unintentionally instilled and exaggerated by how adults respond. But adults can also help calm children’s fears as they teach the best ways to manage difficult situations.

    So, to help yourself and those around you manage the effects and after-effects of Sandy – and other storms in life – in the best way possible, do the following:

    Stay calm: If you feel flooded by your fears, it is essential that you calm yourself. One way to do this is to take some slow, deep breaths. Place one hand on your chest and your other hand on your belly. As you breath, the hand on your stomach should go up and down while the hand on your chest should not move. This is called diaphragmatic breathing and is designed to help calm your body.

    Learn the facts: Rather than allow yourself to become overwhelmed by all that you see in the media, pay special attention to what applies to you. Get information from local authorities. Learn what the concerns are for your area and what local authorities are doing to address those concerns.

    Resist becoming overwhelmed by the fears of others: During emergencies, many people panic. Resist getting carried away by those fears. Remind yourself of the facts. Also, take the time to calmly explain the situation to children (in an age appropriate way), including what you expect to happen and what you will do to stay safe.

    Do what you can to prepare for or manage problems: Feeling helpless in the face of danger is a surefire way to become panicked. So, learn what you need to do to manage the crisis at hand. You can easily get this information, such as by listening to the news or going to your community’s website for information on what to do.

    Seriously think about your conclusions: Ask yourself whether your thoughts and concerns fit the situation or whether they are an over-reaction. Base your actions on conclusions grounded in facts about the situation.

    Act. Once you have assessed your situation, take action. By being clear about what you need to do, you will be more decisive in your actions. This kind of self-confidence can help calm your own fears and the fears of those around you.

    Here are some helpful links:

    Keeping Food Safe During an Emergency

    Preparing For A Hurricane

    From FEMA: Storm updates, information on shelters


    Join the discussion in the WebMD Relationships and Coping Community.


    The Art of Relationship blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.


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