Use Disaster Psychology Strategies to Survive This Winter


Illustration for article titled Use Disaster Psychology Strategies to Survive This Winter

Photo: CHOKCHAI POOMICHAIYA (Shutterstock)

For nearly a year, we’ve been living through a prolonged disaster. This is different from those involving extreme weather, like hurricanes, or single-day tragedies like 9/11, which may take years to clean up and process, but the actual events of which are typically confined to a day or two. The COVID-19 pandemic has been wearing on (most of) us constantly. And though having multiple effective vaccines is a good sign, there still is no actual end in sight to all of this.

As important and useful as the usual mental health coping strategies are, a lot of us need something a little stronger at this stage. That’s where disaster psychology comes in. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), the aim of disaster psychology is to “reduce initial distress, and foster short and long-term adaptive functioning following a disaster”—all stuff we need right now. Here’s how to apply this approach to keeping your mental health intact (or at least as close to intact as possible) during the upcoming pandemic winter.

How to apply disaster psychology during the pandemic

Consider the roles people have in “typical” disasters, either as survivors or responders to the tragic event. But, as Dr. Amy Nitza, director of the Institute for Disaster Mental Health at the State University of New York at New Paltz, recently pointed out, COVID is so widespread that a lot of people find themselves in both roles at once. “We’re training everybody [on] how to take care of themselves and how to support the people around them,” she said in an interview with Scientific American.

Scientific American contributing editor Melinda Wenner Moyer’s entire article is well worth the read—and contains specific strategies—but this line gives you a taste of what using disaster psychology during the COVID pandemic could look like:

When people in devastating situations can spot warning signs of mental trouble, acknowledge and express their distress, focus on the present moment and the small things they can control, and find ways to connect with others, they can get through the darkest of moments and show resilience.

Along the same lines, there’s also plenty to learn from collective trauma and grief that can be applied to the pandemic, but we’ll leave that for another day.



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