(Continued from Part 2. This concludes the article.)
Part 3 – Preventive Strategies
Yesterday, in Part 2 we covered disaster’s effects such as depression, grief, and PTSD. Today in Part 3, we will focus on numerous preventive strategies. It is imperative to work proactively at protecting the psychological health of your entire group. This will require advance study and forethought for some unless you are blessed to have an individual in your group with medical and/or counseling experience to call upon. Nevertheless, it is crucial to think, read, and plan for psychological stress management as we do for other aspects of survival. Also keep in mind that these are skills and preparations that you definitely will use as an individual during your life even if there is no disaster or TEOTWAWKI. We will all face stress and loss which we will endure more successfully with some of the skills covered below and which will assist us in helping others in our homes and communities.
While I am a licensed M.D., retired disabled, I am not a psychiatrist and remind our readers that I am neither diagnosing nor prescribing. Please obtain prompt medical care from licensed practitioners as long as they are available.
Three Areas to Strengthen
There are three areas that we will focus our attention on strengthening. They are physical, emotional, and spiritual. Some of you will already be acquainted with portions of the material, but there is certain to be new food for thought and helpful references listed below for further study.
Physical (Fitness, Work, and Withdrawal)
We all know the benefits of regular scheduled exercise in managing stress. Put yourself on a 3 or 4 times a week fitness program after medical clearance from your practitioner. Even after a disaster when there will be excessive physical work, people will still need opportunities to unwind such as a relaxing walk or private time for meditation or prayer. Now is also the time to focus on a healthier diet. Decrease reliance on junk food, alcohol, tobacco, and drugs. With medical assistance, deal with health problems now and learn which medications are absolutely required for your survival. Aim for a better, healthier you, whatever that is, given your age and medical situation.
In TEOTWAWKI, there will be more work than hours and people to do it. Work smarter, not harder, whenever possible. Figure out the fastest, easiest way to tackle the task at hand. Use time management skills and focus on efficiency. Utilize the buddy system for dangerous or emotionally stressful work for safety and psychological back-up. Each person must also learn to set limits to preserve his own ability to function and remain useful to others.
After TEOTWAWKI, pay attention to sleep, hygiene, nutrition, and signs of stress. People will also be dealing with withdrawal from alcohol, tobacco, drugs, and medications. Keep in mind that 1 out of 6 Americans is already on anti-depressants or other medications for mental issues. I encourage you to research possible herbal alternatives in the many fine herbal articles found on Survivalblog. Please also find listed below a number of articles dealing with medication withdrawal and the psychology of survival.
This will be the longest and most varied section. There are numerous techniques for managing stress. Figure out which works best for you, but be ready with a list of options to help others in your group. The leader will also need to decide what group routines and traditions to implement for the emotional and spiritual wellbeing of the community.
First are calming techniques. These include guided imagery and visualization to create a relaxed state of mind, progressive muscle relaxation to loosen tense muscle groups, deep breathing, biofeedback, and meditation. This is not an exhaustive list. Never forget the power of human touch such as hand holding, rubbing hands/feet/temples, or back/neck massage. The gentle touch of an empathetic person can be powerful soothing medicine and help decrease pain and panic. Combine it with the recitation of a favorite psalm or song.
We are all aware of support animals these days and how they lower our blood pressure and heart rates. Some police departments have a loveable dog “on staff” to decrease stress for our men and women in law enforcement. Consider the calming influence that someone’s mellow pet may have on your group. This can be especially important for children. There is nothing like the unconditional love and acceptance of a pet. Remember that calming techniques are best employed before maximum crisis! Practice calming techniques mid-morning and at various points during the day to prevent rising stress levels. Monitor muscular tension in your body during the day. Calming techniques can also be employed to ease a person into sleep. Journaling is another way for people to express their feelings and rid themselves of tension. Find out what techniques work best for you and use them throughout your life.
Routines and Traditions
Second are routines and traditions. They bring structure and a feeling of security and normalcy to our lives. How many of you remember the television show “The Waltons” and their evening routine of wishing everyone good-night? Employ whatever strengthens your group such has mealtime prayers while holding hands, beginning or ending the day in a circle and singing the doxology, regular worship times, evening Scripture reading, and bedtimes routines for children with stories/songs, prayers, and tucking into bed. Remember to include celebrations in the regular life of your group.
Third is the power of positive thinking. Never surrender. Keep hope alive. Monitor the self-talk in your own head. Do not allow defeatism or negativity to creep in. Repeat statements to yourself that are brief and positive and model it for the group. Survival depends greatly upon sustaining the hope of help from the government, friends, family, and God. Never stomp on someone’s hope. Recite favorite uplifting affirmations or lines from Scripture such as Philippians 4:13. People with determination survive despite great odds.
Health Officers and Spiritual Leaders
Fourth is the effectiveness of the health officer and/or spiritual leader. They have an important role in providing comfort, encouragement, and counseling. Their job is also to watch for signs of illness- mental, physical, or spiritual in the members of the group. Beware of signs of burn-out (isolation, irritability)and forms of mental illness such as panic attacks, phobias, PTSD, paranoia, obsessive compulsive disorder etc. Maintain confidentiality as much as possible. Keep special watch over those under the greatest stress such as people in combat, first response, burial detail, and leadership roles. Also be alert for compassion fatigue of counselors and care providers. In providing a support system, the health officer or spiritual leader needs to be available to listen, offer advice, and provide emotional support. It is important to be visible as much as possible during meals, breaks, and before bedtime. Check in on individuals after a traumatic event or loss such as armed conflict, death, or serious injury. Pursue conversation even after hearing, “I’m O.K.” Respond with, “No, really, how are you?” Continue to watch over the tough-guy type who says he doesn’t need any help. He is vulnerable too. I have intentionally omitted information about herbal medications as they are covered very well in the SurvivalBlog archives.
Last is spiritual which is the most important. If you are not a spiritual individual, then feel free to skip these few lines. If you are, then I am preaching to the choir so I’ll be brief: Love God. Attend church. Make time for daily prayer and Scripture reading. Grow closer and rely on Him.
Know that He loves you. When burdened, hand Him your cares and get a good night’s sleep.
It is my prayer that this three-part series will be helpful to readers now and in the future. Please feel free to write about your favorite techniques in the comments section. We can all learn from each other. May we never face a national disaster or TEOTWAWKI. Included at the bottom are articles and websites for further knowledge. Best wishes to all, – K.B., M.D.
Some useful links to supplement Part 3: