Anxiety During Wildfire Season

Right now across Canada we are experiencing summer temperatures and conditions that, for some, mean days spent at the beach under an umbrella, swimming in the ocean or a local lake, and basking in the sun. For many others though, this is a time of anxiety, anticipation, and worry about wildfires and the possibility of an evacuation scenario.  Experiencing emotions like worry, fear, and anxiety is expected; however, living in that state for an extended period of time can have long term implications for your mental health, even if an evacuation order doesn’t go through and you can remain in your home. 

Oftentimes our first response to a potential threat is to catastrophize, creating worst case scenarios that are obviously very upsetting. These thoughts can quickly develop into high levels of anxiety and even panic. The best defense against catastrophizing is seeking out information from reliable sources and that you can trust and planning with family and friends. For residents in BC, there is a BC Wildfire Service website as well as an app you can download. In Alberta, visiting will show you similar information.

Preparation is crucial when it comes to managing a potential crisis. Sometimes you have advanced notice when a wildfire is approaching your area, and other times, you don’t. Entering into the summer months with a plan in place is a practical way to put your worry and anxiety you are experiencing to good use. Of course, there is a lot of information out there on how to prepare your home and your family for an evacuation. Deciding which keepsakes you may want to take with you and boxing them up ahead of time as always prudent. But how do you prepare mentally? That can be an overwhelming question. Here are some suggestions that could help.

First off, addressing your worries and fears is important, not just bottling them up. Share what you are thinking and feeling with your family, coworkers, or friends. Chances are that other people are having similar experiences and doing their best to make their own plans. Sharing information and ideas about property preparation and evacuation planning builds a sense of community and can be tremendously comforting. Establishing a daily routine that includes as many of the things that you would normally look forward to, especially connecting with friends and family for some non-evacuation focus downtime, can be really helpful.  Go for an evening walk with a friend, spend time reading a book after work, get out into your garden, take yourself out for lunch, whatever feels right to you. Maybe you had some big plans for the summer that will need to be altered. If  you don’t feel comfortable going away for that long holiday, plan some day trips that don’t take you too far away from your home, or have friends over for a get together. Finally, give some thought to any substance use you engage in and consider how it could impact your ability to remain calm and clearheaded if a situation escalates. These are just some suggestions, but if you start talking with people in your life, they may be able to offer additional ones. 

Remember that focusing on what you can control is your best option in remaining calm. Wildfires can rob us of our control over many things, but not everything. With an evacuation plan in place, you can remind yourself that everything written there is under your control. This is also true of how you manage your mental health. If you experience anxiety, stress, or chronic worry about wildfire season, it could be affecting your own mental and physical health, as well as your career or relationships. Talking to a mental health professional can allow you to feel more aware of and in control of your emotions, which can really help if you find yourself in crisis. Reach out to Walmsley if you’re feeling like you could use a hand. 

Rob Baker

Walmsley EFAP