"Snuggling my cat." "Aromatherapy." "Prayer!"
Those are just a handful of responses Huffington Post readers offered when we asked how they plan to cope with Hurricane Sandy, the so-called "megastorm" expected to bring life-threatening storm surge flooding to the mid-Atlantic coast.
And while most hurricane preparations have, rightly, been focused on the purely practical, like stocking up on essentials and following government evacuation orders, experts say it is worth giving some thought to cultivating emotional comfort before, during and after the storm.
Whether that is possible for particular individuals is largely determined by how much the disaster impacts his or her area, Dr. Steven Meyers, a professor of psychology at Roosevelt University and a Chicago-based clinical psychologist, told The Huffington Post. Those who live in a spot unlikely to be seriously hit by the storm may be able to get the comfort they need by simply "preparing to the extent that they can, and maintaining their typical routines as much as possible," Meyers said.
But people who live in areas threatened by dangerous storm surges are likely to focus solely on safety.
"When natural disasters threaten people in more serious ways, comfort is much more difficult to find," he explained. "Ensuring safety and well-being become paramount."
Indeed, experts say that practical preparations can also be therapeutic.
"The more practical you are, the better off you're going to be emotionally," said Dr. Lloyd Sederer, medical director of the New York State Office of Mental Health and HuffPost's mental health editor. "The practical things are going to have the effect of giving people the power to control -- within the range of things you can control. That's a key to resilience."
Another essential is maintaining balance in your news consumption. It is important to be informed about the storm and how it may affect you, Sederer said, but not to obsess over the news coverage -- a sentiment echoed by a Facebook responder whose coping plan was, simply: "NO NEWS."
"If you weren't scared to begin with, you will be," Sederer said. "Your body will absorb the intensity, the shrillness, of the message. It's anxiety provoking."
Another key to enduring the storm, experts say, is reaching out to friends and family.
"If you're feeling anxious, the first thing to do is to talk to someone," said Dr. Drew Ramsey, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University in New York. "In cases like this, everyone around you has the same anxiety." (People with anxiety disorders, he said, should talk to their doctor if they are feeling symptomatic.)
Parents who have concerns about the storm should be sure to discuss those concerns with other adults, never their children, he said. It is important for parents to tell their children what they've done to prepare and then assure them that everything should be fine.
Alecia Kintner, a 43-year-old from Connecticut, talked about Hurricane Sandy with her 5-year-old twins. While they are looking forward to not having school and "lots of arts and crafts," they have, subtly, expressed concern. They made beds on the living room floor because "they say they want to be near Mommy and Daddy when the storm comes," Kintner said.
And getting a good night's sleep -- as much as is possible once the storm kicks up -- is important, Ramsey said.
"Sleep is the number-one modifiable determinant of mental health," he said. He also stressed the importance of eating well and enough, as hunger can exacerbate anxiety.
As for that coping mechanism suggested by several HuffPost readers (who presumably live in areas that will not be hit hard) -- "wine" -- Ramsey said it is fine to have a glass or two, but individuals should be sure to keep their consumption in check so they're ready to react if necessary. Alcohol can be calming, but he said overall, people should not expect to feel totally nerve-free.
"Anxiety is a really normal, healthy response to a natural disaster headed your way," Ramsey said. "I don't think people should feel ashamed to be anxious in any way. Something very powerful is headed this way."
What's your preferred source of comfort during the storm? Let us know in the comments.
Also on HuffPost:
Bring Your Dog To Work
A recent study in the <em>International Journal of Workplace Health Management</em> showed that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/01/bringing-dog-to-work-stress_n_1391420.html" target="_hplink">bringing your dog to work</a> could help to lower office stress and boost employee satisfaction. "Pet presence may serve as a low-cost, wellness intervention readily available to many organizations and may enhance organizational satisfaction and perceptions of support," study researcher Randolph T. Barker, Ph.D., a professor of management at Virginia Commonwealth University, said in a statement. "Of course, it is important to have policies in place to ensure only friendly, clean and well-behaved pets are present in the workplace." The study, which looked at the pet-friendly company Replacements, Ltd., showed that employees who brought their dogs in to work experienced <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/01/bringing-dog-to-work-stress_n_1391420.html" target="_hplink">decreases in stress</a> throughout the work day. Meanwhile, self-reported stress <em>increased</em> for people who didn't bring their dogs, and for those who don't have dogs.
Laugh It Up
If you're feeling particularly stressed, perhaps it's time to take a quick YouTube break. A small 1989 study in the <em>American Journal of the Medical Sciences</em> showed that<a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2556917" target="_hplink"> "mirthful laughter"</a> is linked with lower blood levels of the stress hormone cortisol. The Mayo Clinic reported that laughter also promotes <a href="http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stress-relief/SR00034" target="_hplink">endorphin release</a> in the brain and relaxes the muscles, which are all key for stress relief.
Grab A Shovel And Some Seeds
Caregiving is extremely stressful, but a 2008 survey showed that gardening may help to reduce stress among caregivers. The survey, by BHG.com, showed that 60 percent of caregivers feel <a href="http://www.alz.org/national/documents/release_110308_garden.pdf" target="_hplink">relaxed when they garden</a>, the Alzheimer's Association reported. And, Health.com reported on a Netherlands study, suggesting that gardening can help to <a href="http://www.health.com/health/article/0,,20507878_2,00.html" target="_hplink">lower cortisol levels</a> and boost mood among people who had just finished a stressful task. That's because doing something that requires "involuntary attention" -- like sitting back and enjoying nature -- helps to replenish ourselves, Health.com reported.
Crack Open A Book
Just <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/5070874/Reading-can-help-reduce-stress.html" target="_hplink">six minutes of reading</a> is enough to help you de-stress, the <em>Telegraph</em> reported. The study, which was sponsored by Galaxy chocolate, suggested that <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/5070874/Reading-can-help-reduce-stress.html" target="_hplink">reading was linked with a slower heart rate</a> and muscle relaxation. Drinking tea or coffee, listening to music and taking a walk also seemed to help lower stress, according to the <em>Telegraph</em>.
Even if she's not there in person, a call to mom can help lower stress. <em>Scientific American</em> reported on a study in the journal <em>Proceedings of the Royal Society B</em> showing that young girls who <a href="http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/2010/05/11/a-phone-call-from-mom-reduces-stress-as-well-as-a-hug/" target="_hplink">talked to their mothers on the phone</a> after completing stressful tasks had decreased cortisol (the stress hormone) in their saliva, and increased oxytocin levels (the bonding hormone). The girls who talked to their mothers on the phone had <a href="http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/2010/05/11/a-phone-call-from-mom-reduces-stress-as-well-as-a-hug/" target="_hplink">decreased cortisol</a> and increased oxytocin levels compared with young girls who weren't allowed to contact their mothers at all, <em>Scientific American</em> reported -- girls who hugged their moms in person had a similar reaction to the phone group.
Eat Some Chocolate
Dark chocolate doesn't only have health benefits for the heart -- eating it can also help to <a href="http://www.livescience.com/7974-chocolate-reduces-stress-study-finds.html" target="_hplink">lower stress</a>. LiveScience reported on a study illustrating that eating 1.4 ounces of <a href="http://www.livescience.com/7974-chocolate-reduces-stress-study-finds.html" target="_hplink">dark chocolate</a> a day for a two-week period is linked with decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol. That study was published in 2009 in the journal <em>Proteome Research</em>. (But of course, chocolate still contains sugar and lots of calories, so make sure you're eating the chocolate in moderation!)
Gossip may not be viewed as socially "good," but it <em>might</em> have benefits in relieving stress. Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, found that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/17/gossip-stress-exploitation-heart-rate_n_1211207.html" target="_hplink">gossiping can actually lower stress</a>, stop exploitation of others and police others' bad behavior. "Spreading information about the person whom they had seen behave badly tended to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/17/gossip-stress-exploitation-heart-rate_n_1211207.html" target="_hplink">make people feel better</a>, quieting the frustration that drove their gossip," study researcher Robb Willer, a social psychologist at UC Berkeley, said in a statement. Willer's research was published this year in the <em>Journal of Personality and Social Psychology</em>. So if something's bothering you, go ahead and gab -- but just make sure you move on so you don't dwell on the negative emotions!