Any number of small things can stress us out, and do—daily. But it’s in the most critical and fearful times, like in the middle of a dangerous storm, when we become reintroduced to the kind of stress we humans were built for. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, it’s easy to feel weak and powerless–and worried. There is, quite simply, nothing more hard-wired into us than fear of something we cannot control. And this is it.
Part of what we teach at meQ is recognizing that there are always things beyond our control–and that doesn’t mean we have to lose our sanity. What a situation like Sandy does for us is encourage us to focus on what we can control–namely, our thoughts and our behavior.
“Humans need to feel in control to feel comfortable,” says meQ’s chief science officer Andrew Shatte. “Scenarios like Sandy test our beliefs that we have control. In some deep place we realize we don’t, but we try and wrest control by buying up more water, batteries, and canned beans than we could ever use in a year.”
Our need to gain control is adaptive and can be smart (it’s a good idea to have those things on hand, after all). But for those of us who have deep beliefs (Icebergs) about the need for control, says Shatte, Sandy can cause us deep stress.
For Michele, a Boston-area news producer covering the storm, balancing the stress of work and home was even more taxing than usual:
“I have no power. The wind outside is howling. Our light post just came crashing down out front, the harbor is flooding, it’s raining *inside* my house and my 4 year old and 7 month old boys finally just fell asleep….I’ve been up since 4am and we were on the air all morning, and I will be heading back in to the studio at 4am to cover the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Stressful? A little. But at the end of my day, I sleep better knowing my family is safe and I did my small part to inform people about what to expect and how to prepare for this storm.”
What eases the stress for her? “When you look for the positive. That’s what always makes it better. That’s my caffeine!”
Nicole, Salem, MA, and Sr. Marketing Programs Manager said distraction was key. “I was scared a tree would fall on my house. So I basically stayed away from the windows and did some work. Conference calls kept me occupied!”
Here are a few ways to cope with Sandy-fueled fears and anxieties.
Turn off the TV for a while.
If you’ve spent hours consuming minute-to-minute storm coverage, you can see that what works for media does not work for staying calm. While it plays a critical role in getting us information that can keep us safe, you can’t deny that there’s also a compelling dramatic slant as hour after hour they fuel our fears with shots of downed trees and surging seas.
Tracy, a teacher in Framingham, MA, keeps her kids away from the news. “If they ask, I remind them that we are all together and that’s what matters. We will keep each other safe and let the people in charge of storms do their jobs,” she says. “We focus on what’s happening right here in our home. That’s the extent of their world right now. Not their job to worry about what is happening outside these walls today.”
Susan Piver, Buddhist meditation instructor and author of The Wisdom of a Broken Heart, tells readers of her blog that this is the time to open our hearts, not close them up out of fear, to wish for others what we wish for ourselves during times like these–safety and peace.
Take a few minutes to do her guided meditation, designed specifically for people struggling with storm-addled stress.
Take advantage of the downtime.
For Tracy, keeping herself and her family calm means taking a “business as usual” approach. Before Sandy struck, she charged up all her digital devices, and stocked up on craft activities and found books and board games to keep her son and daughter occupied. “I also made sure to turn up the cold setting on the fridge, and cooked a big pot of food that would be okay cold for dinner, and made sure there was plenty of snacks (even popped some popcorn ahead of time).”
Jennifer, a radio producer in Queens, NY, used the hours of downtime to finally organize her closet. And Sean, powerless in Hoboken, strapped on his headlamp and decided to catch up on some reading.
Shatte urges us to use this opportunity to practice calm in the midst of chaos. “Take a deep breath, make reasonable and sensible preparations, keep your kids by your side, call a friend, and make the most of the fact that you’re housebound – do that happy chore (like uploading your video camera family movies) that you’ve been meaning to for ages and never had the chance.”
Terri Trespicio is a writer, speaker, and coach. Visit her at Trespicio.com.