Why taking care of yourself NOW is good preparation for LATER

In my copious spare time (Ha ha ha!) I sometimes teach the Disaster Psychology module in my local Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) trainings. Why? Because: I believe that what happens in your brain during and after a disaster is fascinating; because I believe that understanding what happens in your brain during and after a disaster is a critical piece of coping during the event; because I believe that this understanding is critical to developing mental and emotional resilience; because I believe that mental and emotional resilience are critical to being able to have a healthy recovery following a disaster.

But, I hear you say, how can that be right? Being prepared is about guns and gear and stockpiling food and water, right? Isn’t it about hoarding medical supplies and precious metals? Isn’t it about stockpiling all the stuff, all the conveniences of modern society that we won’t have after the poop hits the fan? Right? Actually, no.

Truth be told, the “stuff” is perhaps only about 25% of what goes into being prepared in the event of an emergency or a disaster. The other 75%? It’s you: your brain, your mind, your emotions, your mental and emotional resilience. We’ll cover psychological footprints of an emergency in a subsequent post, but for now, suffice to say that  taking care of yourself on many levels is a primary part of preparing for an emergency.

The greatest predictor or your ability to recover from a disaster or an emergency is your level of resilience prior to the event. Let me say that again, a little differently. How together you are right now, mentally and emotionally, is the greatest predictor of how well you will fare during and after a disaster. This is not to say that some people don’t rise to the occasion during emergencies – because we’ve all seen that. It is to say that your resilience is directly related to the probability that you will come through a disaster without (or with fewer) mental and emotional scars.

What is resilience? According to the American Psychological Association: “Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or even significant sources of stress… it means ‘bouncing back’ from difficult experiences.”1  The APA goes on to say that resilience isn’t like having blue eyes or brown eyes. It’s not a trait that you did or didn’t inherit. Resilience is something that you can build – like muscles, or your vocabulary.

How do you build resilience? If you wait until something happens to try to build your resilience, it will be too late. Building resilience should start now. And, it’s based on skills you already have. Building resilience begins with good self care. George Everly, of the Johns Hopkins Center for Public Health Preparedness, teaches that you can build resilience, and mitigate the impact of traumatic events and of vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue through good self care.2

This is George Everly’s Self-Care Pyramid. I use it in CERT, to teach folks how to begin building resilience. Actually, I use it to show them that they have already begun to build their resilience and that’s straight forward and not rocket science at all. Let’s take a closer look at the pyramid.

Look at the capstone of the pyramid. It’s labeled “CONTROL & Problem solving.” Why is CONTROL at the capstone? Two reasons. One: in a perfect world and the best of all possible circumstances, we’d all be in control and would be able to wave our proverbial magic wands and just fix things. Two: if the other building blocks are in place, you will be able to remain in control and figure things out. Now. Let’s look at the building blocks that make the capstone possible.

Look at the foundation of the pyramid: FAITH. “Faith” in this instance doesn’t necessarily mean “Higher Power.”  It can, but not necessarily. Everly defines faith as that which helps you understand your place in the scheme of things. It is that intangible thing from which you draw strength. It may be a Higher Power. It may be science. It may be a little of both. It could be a class you take to learn a skill that will serve you in good stead in an emergency. Everly firmly believes that everyone must have something that helps them understand things, come to terms with thing. It forms the basis of good self care.

The next building block of the pyramid: ATTITUDE. Your attitude, your outlook builds upon your faith. If you don’t understand what’s going on, if your faith can’t help you make sense of what’s happened (or what’s happening) to you, you’re not going to have a the kind of attitude that will help you help yourself in an emergency. If you understand the underpinnings of the event (say it’s an earthquake, or a flood), if you understand the causes of an event (faults, or ancient levees), if you understand why something happened, and why it make take the authorities so long to get to you, your attitude is naturally going to be better than that of somebody who doesn’t have a clue.

The next building block is made of two parts: REST and NUTRITION. Good nutrition and hydration are critical to your physical and mental functioning. It’s the fuel for your body and your brain. If you load up on junk food and processed sugars, you’ll get the sugar rush and then you’ll crash & burn and have to seek out more cheap, fast-burning fuel. Also, junk food is made up of excess empty calories that are easy for your body to convert to fat. Good nutrition is critical to optimum functioning. The other half of this building block is REST. In a emergency, we all think we need to be hyper-vigilant. We need to pay attention to everything, all the time. We cannot take a break. What would happen if we’re not paying attention every moment? REST is critical. Rest allows your brain to rest and reset. Your mental health depends upon getting an adequate amount of, not just sleep, but REM sleep. Rest also allows your body to enter a rebuilding and assimilation phase where it can repair itself and assimilate the vitamins and nutrients you’ve been scarfing down all day. Rest helps you be more alert the following day. Adequate rest is imperative – especially in an emergency.

The next building block is EXERCISE. Exercise helps you in many ways: cardiovascular fitness; stress reduction; body mass index. There are a myriad of reasons why exercise is important. But, on a really basic level, we’re not designed to be sedentary creatures. We’re designed to walk and run, hunt and gather. Without exercise we get obese and soft. We lose our core strength and we open ourselves to the risk of a host of health issues. Exercise is a key piece of good self care.

The next building block is SUPPORT.  Support can be found in the form of friendships, faith communities, family. Support is that network of relationships that forms a basis of emotional support you have before, during and after a disaster. Support can be a shoulder to cry on. Support can be hand holding while making a difficult decision. Support, emotional support in one form or another, is a key part of good self care.

And that takes us back to the capstone. If the building blocks are in place, you are more likely to remain in control, more likely to make good decisions, more likely to get things done, more likely to get through a crisis in better mental and emotional shape.

A big part of preparing for a crisis, is good self care before SHTF.

As always, thanks for reading.

~ L.


1 American Psychological Association. 2010. “What is resilience?” Retrieved from: http://psychcentral.com/lib/2007/what-is-resilience/

2 Everly, George. 1995. “Self Care Pyramid?” Retrieved from: http://www.jhsph.edu/preparedness/training/online/self-care.html


One Response to “Why taking care of yourself NOW is good preparation for LATER”

  1. Rob Conner Says:

    Very good information. Thank you.

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