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Planning, preparation help ease stress of powerful storm

  |   Kristen B. Morales   |   Permalink   |   News Release,   Research

Empty shelves of bread and canned goods aren't just a sign of last-minute hurricane cravings—the purchases are also a coping mechanism, says a University of Georgia researcher.

Preparing for a major weather event such as a hurricane can help lower your stress level in advance of the storm and also help you feel better when dealing with the aftermath, said UGA College of Education associate professor Alan E. Stewart.

"The best strategies in terms of coping emotionally and getting through the storm all center around preparation," said Stewart, a weather and climate psychologist in the department of counseling and human development services. "To the extent that people's planning—and action on those plans—is on par with the effects of the storm, then people can feel like they are effectively managing the effects of the hurricane."

For example, if people experience power and water interruptions, then relying on their supplies put aside before the storm may make the aftermath of a hurricane seem more manageable. "People feel like they will get through it," he added.

Parents also need to consider the effect their emotions and actions have on their children. Often kids take their cues from parents or caregivers, said Stewart, and can sense a grown-up's anxiety. Of course, in cases where property is damaged or destroyed, it is even harder to manage the storm's psychological effects.

To help feel better prepared, Stewart recommends those in the path of a major storm take certain steps, such as:

  • Packing important belongings in case you need to leave in a hurry.
  • Moving important items to higher floors if flooding or a storm surge is expected.
  • Making provisions for pets.
  • Having a good supply of important medicines (such as insulin or blood pressure medication).
  • If sheltering in your home, having a supply of food, water and fuel.
  • Knowing where other family members in the area might seek shelter, and designating a meet-up location after the storm has passed.
  • Knowing what roads are prone to flooding and might become impassible if water rises quickly.

The Ready Georgia app is also a good resource for information on preparing for severe weather and other disasters, said Stewart. It's produced by the Georgia Emergency Management Agency.

"Planning and acting on those plans helps people to cope with feelings of anxiety and uncertainty by doing something concrete that will preserve and protect their home and belongings," said Stewart. "People can try to cope and manage by doing what things they can accomplish—controlling those things they can and realizing, often painfully, what they can't control in the days and weeks following the storm."

© University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602