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Your Mind, in a Disaster

Are you prepared? How to think fast and act when disaster strikes.

Recent events in Japan have taught us one thing if they’ve taught us anything. We never really can predict what’s going to happen even though we plan and plan. There’s an old expression, “Man plans and God laughs.” Put another way, “Man thinks and God winks.”

The expressions “going to” or “gonna” are at the core of our anxiety and fears. We predict what’s “gonna” happen, live as if it’s true (with not a shred of evidence) and then based on these irrational (inaccurate) thoughts an beliefs, scare ourselves to death, sometimes rendering ourselves frozen. We often predict that something terrible, awful, horrible or catastrophic is “going to” happen with no real data other than our beliefs and we freeze in our tracks.  

Then there are those who believe disaster will never strike, even when the earth begins to rumble, the ship begins sinking, or the water begins flooding their homes. These folks are not immobile, they are just living in denial, knowing something is wrong but not trusting their intuition. Neither extreme is wise.

Can you be better prepared, and therefore less anxious, for whatever is “going to” happen here in San Diego? One author, Amanda Ripley, a TIME Magazine contributor and investigative journalist, wrote an excellent book on how to develop psychological preparedness: The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes—and Why.

San Diego is a fine city but with earthquakes, tsunamis and nuclear reactors within arms reach of our shoreline, the military bases and potential for other disasters, we don’t exactly live in a protected bubble. The City of San Diego’s own website tells us, “The region and climate of San Diego make the City susceptible to earthquakes, wildfires and flooding…”  

Of course you can read FEMA’s Are You Ready? An In-depth Guide to Citizen Preparedness (IS-22) a comprehensive source on individual, family, and community preparedness. The City of San Diego also has a community-based program called Community Emergency Response Team to help us become a part of the solution. But beyond practical solutions such as flashlights, places to go for safety, escape routes, and the like, what about emotional and psychological readiness?

If you freeze up due to erroneous anxiety-inducing thoughts, ask yourself for evidence of your beliefs. It usually melts the anxiety. Realize you are fortune telling. Ask yourself, “What can go right?” 

Ripley’s advice is to:

1)    Take action quickly without freezing up

2)    Recognize the responsibilities you have to save yourself and others near you

3)    Take active responsibility for your survival

I’d add, 4) trust your intuition. Why? Because many people simply ignore warning signs instead of taking smart action—often because they don’t trust their gut feelings, or don’t want to.

Another author, this one also a “master energy therapist” and spiritual teacher, Carol Tuttle, advises that if you have trouble trusting your own clear intuition and knowledge of what is right for you, try these steps:

1)    Remind yourself frequently that you know what is best for you

2)    Avoid discounting what you know to be right for you by explaining yourself, defending yourself or feeling you have to justify what you do

3)    Instead of “I don’t know,” try “I do know what’s right for me.”

4)    Use this: “Even though I may be creating fear [by] telling myself ______, I choose to be calm and confident.”

Mark Twain said, “Courage is not the absence of fear: it is the control of fear, the mastery of fear.” Thus, armed with the recognition that frozen fright is simply the mind predicting and erroneously believing that some harsh outcome is “going to” happen (based on no real evidence), or recognizing that your inaction may be based on the potential you have for irrationally not trusting your own intuition when the sirens begin to scream out, it’s time to simply do the thing you fear: step up to the plate and be better able to follow Ripley’s advice in the face of real disaster.

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About This Blog

Edit ModulePsychologist Michael Mantell tackles San Diego’s psychological well-being, from reducing stress and anxiety to creating closer bonds with family to the importance of physical fitness.

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