Climate Change Makes this Rural Dweller Nervous

Hi Peak Shrink,

I live here in Western Massachusetts, which as you know has seen a series of extreme weather events over the past few years: the ice storm of 2008 (power out here for 3+ days), Hurricane Irene, the tornado outbreak of June 2011, the October snowstorm of 2011 (power out here for 5+ days), and Hurricane Sandy (which thankfully didn’t wreak its worst here in MA, but had such an intense impact on the entire region inc. friends and family).  My home is in a rural area on a dirt road.  When the power goes out, we have no water or cooking ability, no internet, and only limited heating capacity.

Long story short:  ever since that string of extreme weather events, I’ve developed intense anxiety and preparedness-craziness when the weather report looks threatening.  I realize that weather news outlets like to attract and retain eyeballs for their advertisers/funders, but nonetheless, when I see “potential for strong to severe storms, can’t rule out a couple of isolated tornadoes”, or “potential ice accumulations/power outages,” my stress hormones spike, I hit Preparedness Overdrive (time to fill the tub and pitchers, check the batteries, cook the raw/frozen things, etc. etc.), with strong anxiety that feels like trauma residue but is also more than that, because it’s wrapped around climate despair.  It makes me miserable and drives my partner nuts.  I can lose whole days to it, glued to multiple online weather sites and Facebook reports from friends who are also stressed out, alternating with prepping my household.

I could get a prescription forAtivan, but I’d rather develop a deeper and more resilient way to defuse this weather anxiety (and channel the climate despair into more useful directions).  Because the weather is only going to get worse, and there’s work to do.

What do you think?

Dizzy on Dirt Road


Dear DoDR,

I’m not sure how long you’ve been going through this anxiety, but for most people, it usually lasts intensely 2 years, then it fades to periods of periodic upset.
Here’s what I’d suggest you do:
  1. You need to make the loss of power less of a big deal.  I would suggest several “practice run” week-ends where you intentionally shut off the electricity, and do what you would do if it actually happened.

  2.  If you own your home, switch over to gas cooking.  If you don’t own your home, get a camp stove and a few tanks of propane.

  3.  You also want to keep the right amount of water ON HAND for the number of people who live with you, and change it out every 3-6 months.  This should be just included as one of those “change of season” things you do.  I’d do it for 5 days, because that’s the worst we’ve seen it, to date.

  4.  Get inexpensive LED lighting you can stick on your wall, next to the outlets.  When you lose electricity, you hit them to turn them on, instead of the light. They don’t through a lot of light, just enough to see your way.  Got to bed at night and don’t stay up for those days.

  5. Have a list of how many batteries you need to power what, and try to keep that at a minimum.  Update the batteries when you change out the water.

  6.  Keep two kinds of food storage, long term and easy to prepare.  Get into the habit of using both kinds, but in a short-term storm, and your “prep week-ends” decide what will be your “comfort foods” and have them at the ready.  Try to make them easy to cook fast(er) foods, not stuff like brown rice that doesn’t store well anyway and takes a long time to cook.

In other words, DoDR, make readiness something that you have gotten used to, not something that spikes your anxiety.  Just because you panic, doesn’t mean you have nothing to feel anxious about.
I assume you have prep books, but “Just in Case” by Kathy Harrison is a good basic book that covers a lot of this, if you don’t.
The first time you drove a car you were probably anxious, but then you got over it, “used to” doing it.  Some of us are more prone to anxiety than others.  I would suggest you continue your “no electricity” week-ends until the thought of having black-outs leaves you “ho-hum.”
In this area of the country, it is just good common sense, and your “instincts” are good.  There is a lot to prepare for, but you just want to get rid of the panic, not the activity.
In the meanwhile, there are many good techniques you can try to learn to relax your nervous system.  Mindfulness is good.  Relaxation training works.  Music is popular as is exercise for people.  You mentioned in your email that you are seeing a therapist.  She or he can walk you though a number of them, until you find a technique that you like…then practice the heck out of it.  You are aiming for what Herbert Benson from Harvard University called “The Relaxation Response.”  Your body, when faced with stress (or a storm) goes into state of relaxation with little prompting, as a response TO THE STRESS.  Cool, huh?
Hope this helps.
Thanks for writing, and keep up the prep!
Peak Shrink
Climate change got you in a panic?  Share your strategies or your worries by writing me.
About Kathy McMahon

Kathy McMahon Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist who is internationally known for her writing about the psychological impacts of Peak Oil, climate change, and economic collapse. She's written for Honda Motors, and has been featured in American Prospect, Greenpeace International, the Vancouver Sun, Freakonomics, Itulip, Ecoshock Radio, and Peak Moments Television.

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