Bushfires are a perennial feature of the Australian climate, but that doesn’t make them any less anxiety provoking.
As fire season approaches, people who have experienced a bushfire firsthand may experience apprehension, anxiety and distress, driven both by reminders of past horror and fear of future danger. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought additional challenges that affect individuals and families differently, especially depending on where they live.
We can help ourselves by mentally preparing for the coming summer. Just as the fire authorities warn us in the lead up to bushfire season to prepare our homes and our bushfire plans in order to reduce the physical risks from fires, now is the time to prepare ourselves psychologically so that we can help minimise adverse effects on our wellbeing.
You can find handy downloadable tip sheets on our website that cover the information below in more detail.
Four effective ways of dealing with anxiety as the bushfire season approaches
Use these strategies to help you better cope with the anxiety of the impending bushfire season and the memories of past experiences that may be triggered at this time.
- Nurture your relationships with family and friends. We know that social support helps us cope with stressful or traumatic life events. Strong and dependable relationships help us get through the ups and downs of life, so spend time with the people you care about.
- Strengthen community relationships. Community activities are important in bringing people together and cementing relationships. Get involved in, or help organise, an event in your community, like a sports game, barbecue, trivia night or market.
- Look after yourself. Get plenty of rest, eat a healthy, balanced diet, and exercise regularly. Learn a simple relaxation strategy such as meditation or controlled breathing and make it part of your daily routine. Limit how much media you take in about bushfires.
- Minimise other stressful life events. It’s important to reduce the stress in your life wherever possible to shore up your mental wellbeing. Now is probably not the best time to be making major life changes, or taking on new challenges.
Two essential ways to help your child cope with anxiety as the bushfire season approaches
If your child or teenager has experienced a bushfire firsthand, they may feel that the world is no longer safe and predictable. As a new fire season approaches, they may begin to feel apprehensive, anxious and distressed, remembering the horrors of the past, and fearful of what will happen if fire threatens again.
Young people might not always have the words to describe how they are feeling, and they may show their anxiety by being fearful, sad, clingy, having difficulty concentrating, or difficulty sleeping. You can help them deal with their anxiety by maintaining their usual routines, and helping them to feel safe.
- Maintain routines
- Help your child to continue to go to school, see friends, and do usual hobbies, activities and chores. This helps children to maintain a sense of ‘normality’ and safety.
- Enjoy activities together as a family.
- Ensure your child eats well and gets plenty of sleep and exercise.
- Help your child or teenager feel safe
- Reassure your child that he or she is safe and cared for
- Limit how much media they take in about the weather and bushfires
- Listen to their concerns, and reassure them that they will be looked after
- Get them involved in creating the family’s bushfire plan, and community preparedness activities.
Three simple steps to prepare yourself to cope in the event of a bushfire
For those who live in fire-prone areas of Australia, psychologically preparing yourself has a number of benefits in the event that fire threatens your property. Research shows that you will be more likely to stick with your bushfire survival plan, and importantly, being prepared and able to manage your emotions in an emergency can save lives.
- Expect the situation to be stressful. It’s normal when bushfire threatens to feel strong emotions such as fear, especially if you have experienced trauma in the past. By recognising how your body expresses fear you can think of ways to reduce your body’s fear response, and choose to focus on your abilities.
- Think beforehand about how you may react. Knowing how you typically respond to stress will help you to prepare and make clear decisions.
- Prepare a plan to help you manage your feelings and thoughts. Having a survival plan that you have developed with family and friends will help you feel in control. Practise coping strategies such as controlled breathing and positive self-talk so that they become second nature; focus on the situation at hand and implement your planned strategies to help you resist the urge to panic and reduce feelings that threaten to overwhelm you.
Fortunately, most people living in fire-prone communities will cope well during this difficult period with the help of family and friends. Some, however, will have more difficulty, and it is important to ask for a bit of extra help if required. Seeing a GP is a good place to start.
For more tip sheets visit www.phoenixaustralia.org/bushfires
To download our digital Bushfire Toolkit with advice, information and tools for people and communities recovering from bushfire trauma and preparing for the new bushfire season visit https://go.phoenixaustralia.org/bushfire-toolkit