What is psychological preparedness?

If you seek to tackle stress better and improve your coping skills in advance of disasters, you are working on psychological preparedness [1].

Given how stress can be adaptive, you do not aim to eliminate it to be psychologically prepared, but to learn to anticipate, recognize and manage it and its resulting emotional responses effectively [2] [3].


Why do we need psychological preparedness?

If you are psychologically prepared, i.e. knowing how to anticipate, identify and manage your emotions, you may enjoy the following benefits [1]:

  • Show less maladaptive psychological responses (e.g. fear, anxiety and hopelessness)
  • Be more collected and confident in coping with the situation
  • Protect yourself better by having realistic expectations: When disaster evolves and you accept that the situation could worsen, you can "let go" of your possessions (e.g. your properties) and evacuate as soon as possible
  • Show less psychological distress and mental health problems in the long run

However, the absence of psychological preparedness may lead to [4]:

  • Reduction in the effectiveness of physical preparedness
  • Diminished effectiveness and utility of conventional public education materials


How do we prepare ourselves psychologically? [1]

Though it is normal to experience stress and negative psychological reactions during disasters, we can respond better as long as we are ready to face them. To be psychologically prepared, we can equip ourselves with the skills to anticipate, identify and manage stress and psychological responses, which is illustrated in the AIM model below:

AIM Model
  1. Anticipate psychological reactions

    In the first step of the AIM model, try to expect the conditions to be very stressful. You may then reflect on your usual reactions. For example, are you likely to stay calm or get nervous? Will you seek or avoid information? Identifying your usual reactions beforehand can facilitate preparations, e.g. learn to approach the matters through different ways.

  2. Identify specific feelings and thoughts

    When you encounter a disaster, you may have different physical reactions (such as heart palpitation, dizziness, headache, muscle pain and fatigue), which may lead to negative self-talk, e.g. "I don't know what to do", or "I am frightened". Try to attend to these messages from your body and identify your feelings and thoughts. 

  3. Manage responses

    After you have identified your feelings and thoughts, learn to cope with them. To alleviate your physical reactions, you may try to slow down your breathing. Meanwhile, try to substitute your negative self-talk with something positive and self-assuring, such as "Relax" and "I'm doing OK". You may then feel easier to handle the situation.


What are the psychological traps that hinder our preparations?

There are some common "psychological traps" you may easily fall into that hinder your preparations and response to possible disasters. The following section aims to give you a better understanding of these traps, so that you can be better prepared for a disaster if you find yourself having similar thoughts on your mind [1] [5].

  1. Unreality

    "It's difficult to imagine what the disaster will be like so I'm not going to take any action to deal with it."

    You should tell yourself that disaster is indeed real and suitable preparation is necessary.

  2. Worry & Anxiety

    "Once I start preparing for the disaster, I feel hopeless and worried about all the possible consequences of a forthcoming disaster as if they might really happen."

    You should go ahead with your preparations and remember that it is normal to worry and panic. Be confident in your ability to deal with them.

  3. Confusion

    "There is nothing I can do to prepare for a natural disaster. It's uncontrollable!"

    Remind yourself that you can still protect yourself and family from its consequences, although you may not be able to control the disaster.

  4. Insensitivity to warnings

    "The warning messages are useless. Just like before, nothing serious is going to happen."

    You should take every warning message serious. Otherwise you may miss out the critical information, which may put youself in danger.

  5. False sense of security

    "I believe in technology and authorities, they will protect us in disasters."

    You should always remain vigilant against the actual danger and not depend solely on others to protect your family and yourself.

  6. Gambler's fallacy

    "The disaster won't really hit us. We were fine during the disaster last time and we will be okay this time as well."

    You should take the warning messages serious and prepare well for the disaster.

  7. Herd behavior

    "I find myself panicking and I don't know what to do, but it seems that something should have been done. I'll just do whatever others are doing."

    It is good to know that you need some preparations for disasters, but it is even better to do them with a calm and collected mind. You may browse different sections of Physical Preparedness to see what the possible precautions for disasters are.

Note:

  • [1] Psychological preparation for natural disasters, Australian Psychological Society.
  • [2] Psychological preparedness and vulnerability (Every, 2017).
  • [3] An integrated model of psychological preparedness for threat and impacts of climate change disasters (Malkina-Pykh & Pykh, 2013).
  • [4] Evaluating the effectiveness of psychological preparedness advice in community cyclone preparedness materials. (Morrissey & Reser, 2003).
  • [5] Awareness, endurance, recovery: Psychological preparedness for natural disaster warnings and natural disasters trainer's manual. (Morrissey & Reser, 2000).