Okanagan experts offer tips to mentally prepare for emergency season

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Mentally preparing for emergency season
WATCH: As B.C. heads into flooding and wildfire season, officials will be issuing the usual reminders to pack an emergency bag and take steps to protect your property. But experts say if you are feeling on edge about the uncertainly the natural disaster season brings, there are also ways to prep emotionally. Megan Turcato has more – May 1, 2023

Residents of B.C.’s Interior are very familiar with what it looks like when natural disasters strike, leading to worries about what this season might bring.

“People have been evacuated, people have been on evacuation alert, [and] people have lost their homes. So (it) is not just the immediate that we are looking at, and the stress and anxiety around the immediate, but maybe the past that is still coming back,” said Julia Payson, the executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association Vernon and District Branch.

An online survey done earlier this year found 76 per cent of British Columbians are somewhat or very concerned they’ll be affected by wildfires at some point.

While 73 per cent of those surveyed in B.C. were somewhat or very concerned they’ll be impacted by severe rains or flooding.

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For both natural disasters, the portion of the population concerned in B.C. was higher than in any other part of Canada.

But experts say there are ways you can prepare emotionally for the unknowns of emergency season.

Councillor Jadon Ward said one way of tackling the uncertainty that causes anxiety is by looking for things you can control.

“Come up with a plan of action, if that be sandbags or a fire emergency kit, so that if something [were] to occur then you wouldn’t necessarily be unprepared,” said Ward.

“That’s going to lessen the anxiety.”

The second suggestion, as B.C. preps for fires or floods, is to take care of yourself.

“We are talking about just general behavioural basics or preventive factors: eating, sleeping, exercise,” said Ward.

Payson suggests doing those things that normally help you have less stress and anxiety.

“If it is feeling worse than just a little bit, if it’s impacting your ability to carry through your day or feel well,….ask your doctor for help,” said Payson.

She said in B.C. people can also call 310-6789 from anywhere in the province to access a distress line (no area code is required).

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Another way to give yourself a mental lift if you are feeling anxious about emergencies is to help others.

Payson said that could look like talking to your neighbours or helping an elderly family member make their disaster preparedness preparations.

She said emergency planning together, staying connected, and building community can all help our mental health as we go into the season.

“We always need to remember it is normal to feel anxious, it is normal to feel stressed. Often we have a lot of ways to cope with that so use those ways, but if it’s not enough to make you feel better ask for help. You deserve to feel better,” Payson said.

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