Psychological preparations can help those facing cyclone threat

The Australian Psychological Society (APS) has urged those facing cyclone threats not to neglect psychological preparations when taking safety measures to ready themselves for the threat of natural disaster.

Professor Kevin Ronan, chair of the APS Disaster Reference Group, said that adequate physical and psychological preparation was crucial if those exposed to cyclones were to protect themselves and other family members, especially children.

"Being psychologically prepared helps us to make practical arrangements because we are able to deal with the anxiety that those preparations can bring and remain effective," he said.

"It also helps us cope better when disaster strikes, because, when the time comes, we have strategies to manage our feelings of fear or anxiety and unhelpful thoughts, which will ensure we can stay calm and focus on our disaster plan."

He said psychological preparation involved people running through likely disaster scenarios, imagining how they might feel and developing strategies to calm themselves down and talk themselves through a disaster event.

The APS has released a set of tips on psychological preparation for those in cyclone-prone communities, which illustrates how three simple steps could help those facing an emergency situation to remain focused and confident so that they can take the necessary practical tasks to protect themselves and others.

The acronym ‘AIM' incorporates the three steps for being psychologically prepared:

  • Anticipate that the situation will be stressful - reflect on how you might feel facing a cyclone (for instance, the sounds of the wind, the sight of flying debris, the potential terror of this unknown situation). Think about how this will make you feel and the strategies you might need to move through fear and anxiety to enact your disaster plan.
  • Identify physical changes related to anxiety (upset stomach, shortness of breath, fast heart beat) and any frightening thoughts (I can't cope, I am scared, I don't know what to do, I am not going to make it).
  • Manage your responses using controlled breathing (breathe consciously and slowly to help yourself relax) and ‘self-talk' involving reassuring thoughts (I can do this, I know what to do, I have a disaster plan).

"We urge communities vulnerable to cyclones to make adequate psychological preparations, and especially to help their children prepare psychologically, and we urge the media and local government to support communities to do this by providing adequate information and assistance," Professor Ronan said.

The APS has a wide range of resources available on its website - www.psychology.org.au/community/topics/disasters/ - for communities preparing for, or recovering from, a natural disaster including a new brochure, Preparing children for the threat of cyclones.

Professor Kevin Ronan, psychologist and chair of the APS Disaster Reference Group, is available for interview on request.

For media enquiries please contact: Judith Heywood or Karen Coghlan on 0435 896 444


The APS is the largest professional association for psychologists in Australia, representing more than 19,000 members. The APS is committed to advancing psychology as a discipline and profession. It spreads the message that psychologists make a difference to peoples' lives, through improving psychological knowledge and community wellbeing.