Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: Psychological Preparation in the Face of Storm Warnings

storm pictureFew of us are immune to some anxiety on hearing that a hurricane, blizzard, flood or fire may be making a path toward us. Important to our physical and emotional safety is the place we call home. A threat to the homestead has figured throughout time and even literature as something of considerable concern.

How Do We Cope?

When faced with warnings of storms or natural disasters it is to our advantage to prepare physically and psychologically by developing a Plan vs. Panic Perspective


Being informed

Checking in with the news media throughout the day is crucial in knowing what may or may not be happening. Being informed by the experts, as opposed to listening to comments by panicked customers buying milk and bread, reduces stress as it clarifies the reality and timeline of the situation. It informs decisions on how to plan.

Being Frightened

Keeping the media going throughout the day, leaving the weather channel on non-stop becomes psychologically counter-productive. The sound and images elevate the anxiety of most adults. The same sounds and images often terrify children, elderly and vulnerable family members who don’t have the benefit of the broader context to make sense of the tone, content or the continual reminder of something terrible about to happen.

Disaster Focus

When we keep ourselves anxious or stay riveted on what might happen we fuel anticipatory anxiety which does not serve us in any way. So often we have a tendency to keep thinking about what might happen and what we will have to do. Such worry actually depletes our energy, keeps our brain prematurely in a fight/flight mode and as such detracts from making appropriate plans and reacting when, and if, it becomes necessary.

Planning Focus

Using media information and lessons learned from prior storms, floods or fires, often equips people with knowledge of the steps to take in the possibility of an event. New and younger families often utilize community and neighbors’ advice in this regard. It is psychologically a valuable step to connect with local officials, neighbors and family regarding safety planning; be it securing boats, taking in furniture, having food and water, baby supplies, medications, light sources etc. People often relax once they have secured what they can, set up where they will go if they need to evacuate, have a “go to bag” ready with essentials and (as one man from New Orleans suggested) “a box with your most important documents” always ready to be taken with you if needed. Children often feel better when involved in such planning.

Daily Life Focus

  • The goal of planning is to be able to turn back to your life rather than anxiously wait. Turning back to A Daily Life Focus is a perspective that supports resilience. Going ahead with the rituals of daily life is very important to children and adults. It doesn’t mean ignoring the problem. It means psychologically reducing stress so you can handle the problem if it comes.
  • Draw upon your daily stress reducers – bake the cake, do the crossword puzzle, pray and sing together, play cards, do homework, challenge your son to the video game and watch the movie together. In the face of any threat, familiar activities and networks of support are invaluable for lowering anxiety and enhancing cohesion and problem-solving.

The Wisdom of Survivors

If you have actually suffered the loss and emotional pain caused by a natural disaster, it is impossible not to reflect on the pain of the memory or the fear of a another disaster. We are human and we are wired in a way that our bodies and minds protect us with a memory for danger. That memory, however, is balanced by the lessons learned and the reality that survivors of natural disaster usually have suffered side by side with neighbors, family and friends. Their collective wisdom facilitates coping in a way nothing else can provide.