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Coping with anxiety during disasters and emergencies
Resources: Mental Health, Wellbeing, Mindfulness, Support
It is normal to experience anxiety during unpredictable situations, like natural disasters. Learn coping strategies to deal with it.
Coping with anxiety during disasters and emergencies

Anxiety New Zealand is joining the Good and Ready Week 2021 encouraging our community to take some simple steps to be good and ready for future disasters:  

Connect with your community: Thriving communities provide a safe place for people to feel a sense of belonging, to connect and share, and to feel accepted. 

Care for your community: In an emergency, most people are helped first by their neighbours.

Prepare yourself and your whānau: Having information and resources can help you and your whānau get through hard times more easily.


As part of getting prepared, we are taking part in the ShakeOut campaign, encouraging Aotearoa to participate in the earthquake drill and tsunami hīkoi. 

ShakeOut is a nationwide annual drill that aims to prepare people in the event of an earthquake or tsunami. It is set to happen this Thursday, October 28. Although people typically think of Christchurch and Kaikoura when they think of earthquakes, all of New Zealand faces risk of seismic activity. Our coastline is also threatened by significant tsunami risk. Given this risk of natural disaster, preparing Kiwis with knowledge on safety and procedures for such emergencies is really important. 

How to participate and what to expect: 

Sign up to ShakeOut. For the drill, participants will drop to the ground, take cover and hold on to something solid. Those participants based in a coastal area may also practise a tsunami hīkoi or evacuation walk.

For more information and to sign up, go to the official ShakeOut website here:

Why disasters (or even a drill) can be stressful and anxiety-provoking events: 

When we are faced with ambiguous, novel, and unpredictable situations, it is normal to experience a level of anxiety. Worry is a normal response when we face situations that involve a great deal of uncertainty or lack of control, like with natural disasters or emergencies. 

Natural disasters – or worry about them – tend to provoke an emotional response. It’s different for different people, but this can look like shock, fear, sadness. It can even look like anger at the unfairness of the situation, or shame for feeling helpless. These feelings can be unpleasant, but they are a normal and valid responses. Being on high alert, or ‘fight or flight,’ can help you prepare for and deal with emergencies. It is our body’s way of helping us to survive and cope. 

The drill may be triggering for some. This is particularly likely if you have experienced first-hand a natural disaster in the past, as the drill may bring up unpleasant memories, emotions and sensations from that time. Alternatively, you may find the drill triggering if it brings to the forefront worry about how you and loved ones may be affected if a natural disaster occurs. 

Coping strategies to support emotional wellbeing: 

Practising the drills may lower some anxiety about the event as it prepares you for what to do in the case of an earthquake or tsunami. This therefore may give you a sense of some control. However, once you are done, it will be important to gently remind yourself that you have done what you can to prepare yourself and look at ways to accept the uncertainty of the situation. Remind yourself that you have done all you can. Mindfulness practise can help with acceptance of things that are out of our control. 

Follow a normal routine as much as possible. This too will help you maintain a sense of stability and certainty. Don’t let anxiety get in the way of living your life or doing the things you want to do. In particular, make sure your routine involves exercise and staying active. Exercise is a great way to lower anxiety and reduce the stress response. 

Discuss your feelings. Talk to someone you trust to help you process how you feel. 

Practise relaxation techniques. The more you practise these, the easier they will be to use when you are not feeling good. Deep breathing is a great way to calm down in stressful situations. This involves breathing into the belly to a count of 4, holding your breath to a count of 7, and breathing out to a count of 8. The counts are a guideline, you may decide to adjust it to what works better for you. The key is to remember to breathe into your belly, and breathe out for longer than you breathe in. This is what sends a signal to your brain that you can calm down. 

Progressive muscle relaxation can also help to reduce tension and promote feeling calm. This involves tensing different parts of your body, holding that for a few seconds, and then releasing that tension and noticing how much more relaxed and loose that part of you feels after. 

It may also be helpful to limit your time around the sights and sounds of what happened – don’t dwell on TV, radio, or newspaper reports on natural disasters, which will only keep you worrying and put you on higher alert. 

Help is available:

If you need support at any time, you are welcome to call our 24/7 free Anxiety Helpline (0800 ANXIETY or 0800 269 4389) and we can do some relaxation, breathing or distraction techniques together over the phone. You can also find some helpful resources here on our website and on our blog. 

You may need further support if you experience regular intrusive thoughts or rumination, feel constantly keyed up or on edge, have nightmares or disturbed sleep, your emotions or physical symptoms are too intense or persistent, or if your ability to carry out day to day tasks has been impaired. 

Or, it might be time to seek help if you have any other concerns about the way you or your family are coping and you would like to discuss the matter. A good first point of contact to start your mental health journey is your GP