10/29/2012 08:05 am ET Updated Oct 29, 2012

Hurricane Sandy: Coping With The Storm

"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.



Natural Stress Relief