Category Archives: Psychology

Psychology of Preparedness and Resilience

UK Community Resilience: Flood Action Groups and Volunteer Major Incident Response Teams lead the way

An update on the North Yorkshire Local Resilience Forum NYLRF Community Resilience and Emergency Plan scheme

Back in October 2015 I first introduced you to UK Community Resilience – a brilliant example of what really works and a follow up of the project. Several seasons of storms and flooding later as well as post 2016 National Flood Resilience Review, it’s high time I update you on progress, for much has indeed happened at North Yorkshire Resilience Forum (NYLRF) to raise community resilience and get people better prepared.

The pilot project originally started with 11 trail blazing communities two years ago reaching around 22’000 people. Now take a look at how this project has grown to include all these communities:

North Yorkshire Communi Resilience map

Green means Community Emergency Plans completed and orange means Community Emergency Plans are under way. This is amazing progress! 🙂 The map is updated regularly and you can see it for yourself by visiting the NYLRF Community Emergency Plans page (click the black and white map there to get to the live one).

One of the communities that has been on board since the word ‘go’ is Tadcaster Flood Action Group. They have a brilliant website and are also on twitter @TadFloodGroup and  facebook so check them out.

Tadcaster Flood Action Group

Their team of dedicated volunteers simply do amazing work and have vast experience since their town was divided by the famous bridge collapse thanks to the terrible 2015 winter storms namely Storm Eva and Storm Frank.

This year, to raise awareness even further, Tadcaster Flood Action Group is planning a bi-monthly newsletter distributed via the website, email and leaflet drop at properties at risk in Tadcaster and I for one cannot wait to see their first edition. Networking and organising local evens are, naturally, also on the agenda and they work with communities such as Ulleskelf Flood Action Group, Newton Kyme and Kirby Wharfe, sharing knowledge and experience to keep communities safe from flooding and build community resilience.

Community Preparedness Kits form one important aspect of the NYLRF Emergency Plan Scheme (together with plans and training), providing tools and resources to those on the front line.

Nicola Eades from Tadcaster Flood Action Group says:

“The community resilience kit which we received has been absolutely fabulous and is a kit that we have in our central base. It simply gives the group peace of mind and a preparation tool having it to hand.”

 

Robin Derry, senior Emergency Planner at North Yorkshire and creator of the NYLRF community resilience scheme already looks ahead, saying:

“The success shown by communities such as Tadcaster is helping to promote this scheme to other communities across the county resulting in a rapid upturn in community preparedness. The added incentive of a free emergency kit is definitely a bonus.

We have a number of events planned across the coming months to promote the scheme further and long list of communities wanting to get up and running with a plan.”

 

In addition, another recent successful example, Ingleton, has been reported in the press:

Ingleton Community Emergency Preparedness Plan

 

But it does not end here. In addition to Flood Action, I want to also tell you about another NYLRF collaboration to tackle community resilience from yet another vital angle: mental health. Meet Alex Sutcliffe and her Major Incident Response Team (MIRT) who will offer support in the aftermath of a traumatic incident such as major flooding to help those who may have been affected:


Find out more about what they do on the Post Incident Support page on the NYRLF website and keep your eyes on this blog which will soon post more about  @alexsutcliffe24 work who explains:

“The MIRT team are a very special team of volunteers who are always ready and willing to be called out to support communities or individuals through a traumatic experience.  We do this by offering emotional and practical support, whenever and wherever it is needed.  The MIRT bags from EVAQ8 have been invaluable as an additional resource to allow the volunteers to be prepared and raring to go with ‘life essentials’ and short notice.
When communities or individuals need the assistance of one or more of the MIRT volunteers, it is at a time when they are at their most vulnerable.  Being evacuated from your home at short notice can leave you feeling very vulnerable and ‘out of control’.  The skills of the MIRT team, ensure that anyone in our care is well looked after and kept safe until such a time that they are able to return to their own homes.”

 

The creation of this special team is a UK first and so all must be hugely congratulated for getting this off the ground.

 

Building community resilience in the UK remains a top priority and the NYLRF model approach is a brilliant example that works.

Hazards and risks are many, not just flooding as we are preparing for a world that’s a least 2°C warmer.

Clearly, Resilience and Preparedness roadblocks  have not damped the spirits of the many dedicated emergency planners and volunteers that make it happen in Yorkshire. It is my sincere hope that their example will go on to inspire many. Why not consider starting a Flood Action or Community Preparedness Group in your area? Get in touch with your Local Resilience Forum and find out what opportunities there are.

Be prepared – not scared!

Monika

For more Resilience Blog simply use the right hand navigation. For emergency kits and practical resources use the top navigation. For more on Emergency and Disaster Preparedness head over to our FREE resources at the Preparedness Hub and find out why we use humour. If you like this post, please share it to help raise awareness for Emergency and Disaster Preparedness. 

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added on 25Sep2017 as part of 30days30waysUK #prep2017day25 #preparedCommunity

SIP: SHELTER-IN-PLACE | September is Preparedness Month

September is Preparedness MonthDay 7: SHELTER-IN-PLACE  or SIP for short, which we hope you do; a lovely cup of (ice) tea or coffee, perhaps something stronger, while you get comfortably stuck in what comes next. Enjoy!

It is a blessing that perceptions and attitudes are changing. Change is good and very necessary as I’ve touched upon in “who moved my cheese? Resilience in a fast changing world”. I’m honoured that EVAQ8 is included in this year’s #30days30ways UK campaign raising awareness for emergency preparedness nationwide and further afield.

Today we are talking about

SHELTER-IN-PLACE: what is it and why do we need to think about it?

Well, let me take you back in time a couple of years while you are SIPping comfortably. You may remember seeing this:

Headline words such as ‘apocalypse’ and ‘prepper’ immediately peak interest, triggering (very mild) anxiety and ridicule, usually in that order and in quick succession; so fast actually that you won’t necessarily even be aware of it. This is what the media does, churn out a quick headline grabbing story, poke fun and onto the next news cycle.  A google news search on the topic will quickly reveal that this treatment is pretty ‘standard’. Humour is a coping mechanism (as the ‘psychology minded’ of you out there will know) and an excellent motivator which, in my opinion, should be harnessed positively rather than used to judge people and the choices they make (or are forced to take).

‘Prepper’ is a stereotype. We must look deeper.

There is no fixed definition of what exactly a ‘prepper’ is or does. Rather, ‘prepping’ or simply ‘being prepared’ ranges from wilderness survivalists to keeping several days emergency supplies at home such as long shelf-life food, water purification, first aid etc.

Reality is, most of us live in an urban environment far away from any real wilderness.

If you already have extra food supplies you can cook and eat without access to utilities such as power or water, own a good first aid kit, a radio and a decent torch (preferably wind-up)  then you qualify and can call yourself a prepper, if you like. Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. How people label themselves are complex and interesting matters. Because of media and film hype the term tends to set off the imagination in perhaps more extreme, fantasy directions. I prefer to keep it real, simple and every day.

 

Being prepared is simply part of who you are.

A prepper is not a ‘crazy’ person but actually someone that makes highly rational choices based on an appraisal of their situation with  knowledge of the past and a look to the future. And what exactly does that look like, the future I mean? Well, things have certainly changed since 2014 and we now must Prepare for a world that’s more than 2° C warmer.

Some big and hard questions are being asked in the wake of flooding and storms which now bear names (MetOffice storm centre). This particular strategy, like most things in life, is both good and bad. While we now can make ‘personal associations’, remember and hopefully learn – meaning: heed warnings, be better prepared – there is also the risk of triggering anxiety and even PTSD. ‘Understanding fear’ is crucial, as I wrote earlier and managing fear is a real challenge. Many turn away (self-preservation, ‘hide’) rather than face (acknowledge) and prepare for what may be coming in a balanced, rational way. Yet strong emotions, even fear can be an ally. Preparedness is the ultimate confidence builder.

  Now I still haven’t talked about what SIP actually is…you still are, SIPping that is? 😉 

Shelter-in-Place is the opposite of running away

…or evacuate using the proper term. Shelter-in-place happens when you cannot or should not run away, then you shelter-in-place. It’s controlled. It’s planned. Unlike ‘hide’.

Shelter-in-Place: climate change, accidents, security

Not necessarily in that order but that’s what it’s all about. An extreme example I’ve already shown you above, in the first guardian tweet. That was about Sam Notaro who saw himself forced to build his own flood defences to protect his family and property, a four-bedroom home in Moorland, Somerset. Other examples include the emergency services asking you to close your windows and await the all clear. It happens all the time, for example, recently….

They don’t call it SIP aka ‘shelter-in-place’ simply because it’s usually not serious enough and does not last long enough which means you don’t have to seal your windows and air ducts and ‘hide/hold out’ for many hours or days.

Shelter-in-Place can also be a consequence of a security lock-down.

Just what exactly a so called “invacuation” is I talk about in what are invacuation, lock-down and shelter-in-place and how do they link to emergency preparedness? This also highlights that, fundamentally, preparedness is for also for business, not just for individuals and that it must cover both evacuation and shelter-in-place. Actually preparedness must include everyone, the old, the very young, the vulnerable and even your pets! Yes, we also have a special page for preparedness with pets and we are involved in community resilience projects which you can read about more here if you’re interested. But let’s talk practical.

What exactly does SHELTER-IN-PLACE preparedness actually look like?

It’s simple. You can count it out on both your hands. It’s all about the 5 preparedness principles and 5 core areas, the gist of which is:  you need to cover

      • 1 food & food preparation (meals-ready-to-eat, water purification)
      • 2 tools & personal protection (multi-tools, gaffa tape, ffp masks…)
      • 3 shelter & warmth (emergency blankets, sleeping bags…)
      • 4 light & communication (torches, flashing lights, radio, comms…)
      • 5 first aid & hygiene

                            so that you can do.. (and at the end will get

      • 1 Prioritise
      • 2 Plan
      • Prepare
      • 4 Practise
      • 5 Peace of mind

 

Shelter-in-place: GET A KIT. MAKE A PLAN. BE PREPARED.

Look around our website; right side navigation for more blog, top navigation for kit. We source the best products on the market and test them so that you can rely on them in a real emergency. If you don’t find exactly what you want, our speciality is bespoke kits, examples of which you can find here.

So that’s about it.  Have you finished SIPping? What? No easy tick list to print out and start with I hear you ask? Well, yes and no, because I’m a little ambivalent about easy short cuts that give a false sense of security and all for motivating and empowering people. You see, only you really know what you need to be better prepared. You are the only one who best knows your situation and circumstances and what you are comfortable with. No simplistic tick list can really get there properly. Only you can, with a little extremely worthwhile effort. But we help. Actually there is a lot of help out there and a good place to start is to first check the website of your local resilience forum which you can also find referenced in our (evolving) directory Ready for Emergencies

In addition we offer a comprehensive free Emergency Plan download and lots of other useful resources which you can access right from our preparedness hub page. This includes our newest awareness raising video, put together for us by the dedicated Warwickshire/ Worcestershire man, Ian MacDonald Walker (@sonetimage6 ). 

Now it’s your turn: #SHELTERINPLACE challenge

For today, day 7 of the #30days30waysUK campaign, we simply would like you to do one thing so that YOU are better prepared and which also HELPS US ALL to raise awareness for emergency preparedness:

Start making your own 72+ hour SHELTER IN PLACE kit, take a picture + share

        • Go through your stores at home and start making your 72+ hour shelter-in-place kit for all the members in your household, covering the 5 core areas
        • All chosen items must be in good working order and have a shelf life of minimum one year, preferably longer
        • Add special items for children and elders, include your pet(s)
        •  Take a picture and share it with the hashtags  #30days30waysUK  #ShelterInPlace  before securely boxing or bagging your kit

 Remember to mark the earliest expiry date in your calendar to check and replace items. Keep your kit updated.

CONGRATULATIONS you are now better prepared! 🙂

If you work for or own a small business, start a contingency kit and business continuity plan for business preparedness and share as above. Now before I go. Thank you! Thank you LRF Emergency Planners for including us and thank YOU for reading and listening. We all face an unknown future and must be willing to be brave, face what is coming and work together. No one is ever alone in a real emergency and disaster. Capacities and capabilities build resilience, and we must keep it positive and empowering with a sense of humour. Which, finally, brings me to Harry Barker (@go_artmonkey) in Manchester. Thank you for the brilliant cartoon finale.

Don’t be scared – BE PREPARED! Monika –

I look forward to seeing you around at #30days30waysUKPreparedness is for everyoneFor more on practical Emergency and Disaster Preparedness head over to our FREE resources at the Preparedness Hub. Why we use cartoons. If you like this post, please share it to help raise awareness for Emergency and Disaster Preparedness. Thank you!   Find EVAQ8 on social media, like and follow us!

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Community Resilience Building Blocks – it all starts with prepared individuals

September is Preparedness Month in the US and this is also gaining traction over here in the UK. This year, some of our Local Resilience Forums have run campaigns locally as well as on social media, for example using hashtag #30Days30WaysUK on twitter, an easy way for you to track and check out some of the goings on. Take away the ‘UK’ and you get the international version.

September also sees the publication of the Annual Disaster Statistical Review (PDF) by CRED, the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters.

This is important because it lets us take stock.

So, what are the latest Disaster statistics?

  • 324 Natural Disasters were registered worldwide last year, 54 in Europe (image opposite is Kefalonia Earthquake)
  • estimated damage overall just under USD 100 billion (ouch!!)
  • 140.8 million people affected (heartbreaking)
  • almost 8000 people lost their lives (tragic, should not be!)

While stark, these 2014 numbers are thankfully lower than in previous years; perhaps a measure that we are getting better not only at Disaster Risk Reduction and Disaster Recovery but also at Preparedness. However…

How well prepared are we really? What’s the evidence?

It’s 50/50 really, meaning that typically 50% of people report that they are not prepared. One of the few UK studies1 I found showed that 51% of respondents (London) had partially completed their recommended emergency plans and only 48% stocked the recommended emergency supplies.

To me this means there is still a long way to go. We must increase awareness for Emergency Preparedness but we also must walk our talk and get better equipped in a very practical sense with actual tools and practical resources. Behaviour change is challenging. Just how much I’ve started tackling in my previous post “Resilience and Preparedness Roadblocks: what stops us?” Do have a look and become a ‘Drag-on slayer”.

Since we are talking preparedness, other important questions are:

What is the evidence that Household Preparedness actually works?

Does Household Preparedness really contribute to Community Resilience?

You would say yes, wouldn’t you, intuitively?

It kind of simply makes sense that prepared individuals cope better in the event of an Emergency or Disaster and that this also contributes to Community Resilience.

Well, it turns out that science backs this up. UK studies are rare so I opted for the next best thing: A Literature Review on Household Emergency Preparedness2.

Scientific conclusions are clear: Household Emergency Preparedness pays off

Reviewing almost 80 relevant studies, Levac and colleagues have good news, summarizing that:

  •  most injuries, death, damage and loss caused by disasters are preventable
  •  adequate household emergency preparedness could significantly reduce such negative consequences of disasters
  • sufficient household emergency preparedness contributes towards people being able to care for themselves in the immediate aftermath of an event

Most importantly:

“One of the most effective ways to mitigate the effects of a disaster is through proper household emergency preparedness”

… and that entails ….

“Emergency Preparedness involves knowing the risks particular to a community, developing an emergency plan and having an emergency kit in the home containing food, water and medical supplies to shelter-in-place for 72 hours”

Just a few days ago, Rafael Lemaitre (FEMA’s Director of Public affairs) reiterated this with a rather funny contribution on twitter

 

Personally I would upgrade the 72 hours to 5 days. Why? In a major event supply shortages and utility outages may be substantial, especially if you live in or near an area prone to flooding (just remember i.e. Key Moments of the UK Winter Storms) I also would differentiate between an Emergency Go-Bag and a Shelter-in-Place Kit and add that Emergency Plans are only effective if they’re reviewed and practiced regularly. Twice or three times a year is good to keep it all fresh.

So, how about your Winter Preparedness? Whether Britain [is] braced for long, snowy winter and winter storms remains to be seen although records do tend to show that El Niño gives colder European winters. In any case, I’m not taking any chances and advise you to do the same. After all, we’ve just seen that

Preparedness really does reduce the negative impacts of Emergencies and Disasters and helps individuals as well as contributing to Community Resilience.

As they say: It’s a no brainer really 😉

And if you want to read more about one of our most recent active projects at the local community level head over to UK Community Resilience – a brilliant example of what really works. If you want to go back to where Preparedness all starts, have a look at one of the earliest posts Resilience what it is and how it connects to crazy weather.

Have a great weekend and a brilliant last week of 2015 “September is Preparedness Month”.

Monika


thank you for sharing and helping raise awareness for Emergency & Disaster Preparedness.

References/Resources:

  • 1 Page, L., Rubin, J., Amlot, R., Simpson, J., & Wessely, S. (2008).Are Londoners prepared for an emergency? A longitudinal study following the London bombings. Biosecurity & Bioterrorism,6(4), 309–319.
  • 2 Levac, J., Toal-Sullivan, D., O’sullivan, T. (2012) Household Emergency Preparedness: A Literature Review. Community Health, 37:725-733

 

 

For more EVAQ8 blog simply use the right hand navigation. For emergency kits and practical resources use the top navigation. For FREE resources head over to our Preparedness Hub and find out why we use humour. If you like this post, please share it to help raise awareness for Emergency and Disaster Preparedness. Thank you!

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Resilience and Preparedness Roadblocks: what stops us?

updated 14Sep2016

Next month, September is National Preparedness Month (NPM or NatlPrep) in the US with many campaigns to raise public awareness for Emergency and Disaster Preparedness. Here in the UK, year on year, regular local events (ie the #30days30waysUK2016 September campaign) are also becoming more numerous and around November the EA (and related bodies) raise awareness for National Flood Preparedness. For me this is encouraging to witness for I believe that awareness and engagement for preparedness has still some way to go. More individual and community action is needed to build a robust culture of preparedness and resilience.

What are the stumbling blocks? Why aren’t we all much better prepared?

Despite the best intentions most of us fail to do enough, unless you’ve been personally affected in the past, for example during the recent floods.

Why is that? Where does this apathy and narrow shortsightedness come from?

source: http://d.ibtimes.co.uk/en/full/1362238/aerial-flooding-01.jpg

Well, I recently read Robert Clifford’s interesting article in The New Scientist “The road to climate hell” and was struck just how easily his analysis also applies to preparedness.

Richard identified 33 ‘dragons’, a metaphor for obstacles or ‘drag-on’ processes that stop us engaging and taking action. Robert’s approach is such a brilliant way to illustrate complex topics that I hope he won’t mind me borrowing and adapting for preparedness.  

1st Dragon family : limited cognition

    • antiquated brains, old hardware and energy conserving software that  have not changed much in 30’000 years. Rather than engage in effort-full anticipation and planning we tend to operate in the comfortable and easy ‘here now’ mode – and that simply makes us slow to act
    • ignorance is bliss they say but not for long and we all should heed Benjamin Franklin who poignantly stated “by failing to prepare you are preparing to fail” . Not only do we tend ignore the necessity for preparedness, we often simply do not know what to do and how to go about it. To make matters worse, preparedness is not simply one thing but means different things to different people at different times and also depending on context. Just exactly what the right kind of preparedness is only you can determine (i.e. by starting at our preparedness info hub and begin making your Emergency Preparedness Plan)
    • uncertainty is tricky to navigate, especially in today’s world of ambiguous messages and unpredictable events. Confusion or underestimation may lead to inaction.
    • numbness from complexity overload in today’s environments that we can no longer wholly grasp. Action is unlikely if a dangerous phenomenon or scenario is seen as not immediately causing personal difficulties
    • discounting, a well-known bias or tendency to undervalue future and distant risk
    • optimism bias: I’ll be fine. No, it won’t affect me. I will manage…  
    • fatalism: it’s out of my hands. There is nothing I can do …. confirmation bias: people tend to read and watch media that reinforces their beliefs rather than challenges and educates
    • time is money: when viewing their available time in monetary terms, people tend to skip careful preparedness planning and investments in resources/skills as there is no immediate and clear ‘return-on-investment’
    • perceived inability: preparedness may require extra resources including knowledge, skill or abilities not everyone possesses. Unless there is a physical or mental disability however, most people are capable to reach at least a minimum level of preparedness and connect to wider networks of community resilience

In the article, Richard goes on to discuss six more Dragon Families; i.e. ideologies, various belief systems that inhibit behaviour social comparison, three aspects of a deeply ingrained human tendency dis-credence, four ways of how people stop engaging when thinking ill of others limited behaviours, and …   

Dragon family ‘perceived risk’ – particularly relevant to preparedness

Perceptions linked to risks that may become particularly persistent ‘drag-ons of inaction’

    • Functional risk: will it work? For example: “The kit I just bought, can I rely on it?” You can if you bought it from us for our promise is “ If we stock it – You can depend on it in an emergency”. Functional risk at a personal level is trickier. The best answer is continuous training and active exercising of your preparedness plans
    • Physical risk: will I get hurt? Preparedness may involve special skills training so there may be certain risks.
    • Financial risk: rather than asking is it worth getting prepared and equipped ask “can I afford not to?”  
    • Social risk: other people may notice your commitment to preparedness and may tease although this is becoming less common. Nowadays understanding is growing and prepared people are becoming role models for community resilience.
    • Psychological risk: you may be teased or criticised for preparing – that is short term. You will, however, build confidence in your capacities and further your personal resilience – that is long term.
    • Temporal risk: the time you invest in planning and preparing may be seen as ‘failing to produce results’. That of course depends on what ‘results’ means to you but in preparedness this is most certainly never the case. Any and all preparedness efforts are never wasted and hopefully you will never have to test them all to the full.

 The good part in all this? All these inner/perceptual dragons of inaction can be slain. You’ve already started by simply reading and thinking about them. And so I leave you with an image of the quintessential Dragon Slayer St. George who is the patron saint not only of England but also of Aragon, Catalonia, Georgia, Lithuania, Palestine, Portugal, Germany and Greece; and of Moscow, Istanbul, Genoa and Venice (second to SaintMark) and who has in recent years been adopted as patron saint of Scouts. source: https://web.archive.org/web/20160701211712/https://jbailey2013.files.wordpress.com/2014/04/wikimedia-st-_george_and_the_dragon.jpg Have a great week and good start to September – make it a Preparedness month for yourself, your loved ones and your wider communities. And if you want to delve a little deeper, watch this brilliant VIDEO by The Royal Society, an animation and briefing on unconscious bias adapted by Professor Uta Frith

Monika   thank you for sharing, raising awareness for Emergency Preparedness!

For more EVAQ8 blog simply use the right hand navigation. For emergency kits and practical resources use the top navigation. For FREE resources head over to our Preparedness Hub and find out why we use humour. If you like this post, please share it to help raise awareness for Emergency and Disaster Preparedness. Thank you!

Find EVAQ8 on social media, like and follow us!

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UK Community Resilience – a brilliant example of what really works

source: http://www.toimg.net/managed/images/10188817/w660/h370/image.jpg

A couple of posts ago when talking about heatwaves I casually mentioned some exciting developments in how EVAQ8 is getting involved in Community Resilience in England’s largest county. If you thought Yorkshire you were right. Actually, I was referring to North Yorkshire, with 3212 square miles of glorious landscape and many diverse communities one of the most fascinating places in the UK – or so I think, impatient to explore and take my camera up north at the next opportunity.

But let me start at the beginning and introduce you to the simply brilliant North Yorkshire Local Resilience Forum or NYLRF team. They are doing something new and amazing:  they’ve come up with a robust plan to engage their local people pro-actively with Emergency and Disaster Preparedness.

The best bit is: their strategy is really working and I am thrilled and honored to share these developments with you as we go along. For this is where all this gets really exiting: it is an active work in progress right now which means we are at the very forefront of some pretty ground-breaking stuff:

the NYLRF Community Emergency Plan Scheme

Preparedness & Planning – first some background: why, who, where and what

The ‘why’ is easy: it’s the law. Since 2004 under the Civil Contingency’s Act, Category 1 responders have a duty to prepare and plan for emergencies. There are 38 Local Resilience Forums in England and 5 in Wales which are at the core of the national network that also includes ReadyScotland and Northern Ireland Civil Contingencies Branch.

Not only must the LRFs warn and inform the public, they also must promote preparedness and resilience to businesses (Business Continuity) and to the public in general. Naturally it’s a bit more complex than that but for my purposes here that about covers the who, where and what. However, I’ve not touched on the concept of Community Resilience everyone is talking about these days just yet. So….

What is ‘Community Resilience’ and how does it tie in with Preparedness and Planning?

Definitions are important as they help make a concept practical which in turn triggers policy changes and the flow of resources (see earlier post What Disaster, Why Preparedness).  So let’s start with ‘Community’: that is simply a group of people either living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common1. The theory2 goes (and it’s quite intuitive really) that well prepared – meaning informed and equipped – individuals, families, neighborhoods, workplaces, faith organisations etc. that closely interact are better capable of mobilizing resources for response and recovery. Or in other words:

Resilience is based on a culture of preparedness                                             (Ready Scotland, 2013)

So far it is quite straight forward but now it gets trickier because ‘Community Resilience’ as a concept means many things to many people and there is a considerable ongoing debate. Rather than bore you to tears let me simply state that I found the CARRI Report definition (2013, p10) one of the most useful:

Community resilience is the capability to anticipate risk, limit impact and bounce back rapidly through survival, adaptability, evolution and growth in the face of turbulent change.

source: http://www.laresilience.org/images/community-resilience-ovals.pngWhat I particularly like is the focus on capability. It implies inherent and latent capacities. It also ties neatly to preparedness which is not just about needs and liabilities but also about assets. In my view this creates an empowering shift and starting point to mobilize engagement which, given the right momentum, may overcome even learnt helplessness and apathy. Thus

Community Resilience is

  • an inherent and dynamic community property
  • a community adaptation to adversity that leads to positive outcomes with respect to community functionality
  • a way to compare communities in terms of their ability to adapt

(Pfefferbaum et al, 2015)

Community Resilience: right input – right output/engagement

Community Resilience efforts are time and relationship intensive (Houston, 2015). However, it does not need to be complicated. Committed leadership is crucial and with this we are back to our story and the North Yorkshire Local Resilience Forum Team.  So, what happened?

Earlier this year NYLRF put an upgraded strategy in place.

The right ingredients for Community Resilience – a Success Story and Model approach

Having identified parishes as one of their key target communities, NYLRF adapted their existing scheme with an ambitious set of incentives which made the following assets available to their parishes:

  • free practical resources: Emergency Kit (comprehensive resources including winter preparedness that were specifically designed by NYLRF and EVAQ8) and a reduced cost defibrillator (Yorkshire Ambulance)
  • free information: comprehensive resources and templates to aid in preparing plans as well as warning and informing the local community
  • free training: British Red Cross first aid training and Yorkshire Ambulance Service defibrillator training for the community

This NYLRF Community Emergency Plan scheme not only provides the perfect mix of practical support (information, practical templates and kit, valuable training), it also ticks all the right boxes from the point of view of the latest research and good practice; it represents

  • focus on community engagement
  • bio-ethical principles, ie. autonomy, beneficence
  • emphasizing assets and needs in a multi-hazard approach relevant to the local context
  • encouraging skills and development

(Pfefferbaum et al, 2015)

So, it’s no surprise that  NYLRF is highly successful in promoting and building community resilience!

Just how successful I will share with you next time when I write more about their current impact, what other types communities may also benefit and about other strategies such as NYLRF’s pro-active participation in key promotional events .

In the meantime, please feel free to check out the North Yorkshire website,  (twitter @NYorksPrepared ), the additional resources/references listed below and resources through our info gateway Emergency Plan.

How resilient is your community?

Have a great week.

Monika

[edited to add: part 2 of the story has now been published; or simply look under the category ‘Yorkshire Model’].


thank you for sharing and helping raise awareness for Community Resilience and Preparedness!

References / Resources

  • 1 Oxford Dictionary | might seem trivial but it is important. There are many different kinds of communities with specific and unique preparedness requirements;  something I will explore later
  • 2 Bronfenbrenner’s bio-ecological theory of development and resilience (Boon et al, 2012 in Prior and Hagmann, 2014;)
  • – Houston, Brian (2015) Bouncing Forward: Assessing Advances in Community Resilience Assessment, Intervention and Theory to Guide Future Work; American Behavioral Scientist, 2015, Vol.59(2), pp.175-180
  • – Pfefferbaum, Betty; Pfefferbaum, Rose and Van Horn, Richard (2015) Community Resilience Interventions: Participatory, Assessment-Based, Action-Oriented Processes.  American Behavioral Scientist February 2015 59: 238253, first published online on September 22, 2014 doi:10.1177/0002764214550298
  • – Prior, Timothy and Hagmann, Jonas (2014)  Measuring resilience: methodological and political challenges of a trend security concept, Journal of Risk Research, 2014, Vol.17(3), p.281-298

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Fitness & Resilience – just how physically fit are you and why does it matter?

source: https://www.thebmc.co.uk/Handlers/ArticleImageHandler.ashx?id=6534&index=0&w=605&h=434What a glorious weekend after the violent thunderstorms on Friday. I wish I could be out there with friends and family rock climbing near Portland. Instead, in support of our daughter sitting A-level exams next week, I am home bound, exercising …. well, this is precisely where I want to begin today’s resilience blog post.
Exerting my imagination, dissolving this grey-white WordPress screen into majestic sea cliffs, my fingers racking up miles typing at speed while trying to come up with a way to bridge the massive gap in my initial post on what is resilience – none of this, of course, counts as fitness. And that is, obviously, not only essential for health but also a core capacity in resilience, one glaringly omitted in my earlier post. Psychology focussed approaches to resilience by their very nature tend to ‘get stuck’ in aspects of mental fitness/health and thus only perpetuate the already pervasive mind-body dualisms. Resilience on the other hand addresses and integrates much wider and diverse topics and, naturally, must include physical fitness. But why exactly and what is the evidence?

Mastering Physical Challenges builds Strength and Resilience

Physical training – exercise –  is good for your health. Yes, that’s nothing new and you’ve heard it all before but there is a crucial qualifier: if done right – but that’s not all. source: http://examinedexistence.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/good-vs-bad-stress.jpgIt’s rather tricky actually and quite a bit of a paradox for you have to challenge and tax yourself yet not overly so, remaining sensitive to personal limits. It’s no easy task to continually hit your personal Goldilocks’ sweet spot of ‘just right’ especailly as it changes over time and with context.

The evidence in favor of exercise is of course pretty strong:  numerous studies have repeatedly shown that physical fitness enhances general health, may prevent or reduce the debilitating effects of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis and a plethora of other chronic disorders. In addition, mastering physical challenges can improve mood, cognition and emotional resilience.

To illustrate, let’s go a bit extreme and take a closer look at Philpott’s (2002) study of the Vietnam War veteran Jim Thompson, America’s longest-held prisoner of war.

Resilience + Physical Fitness Case Study: Extreme Survival in Captivity with the ‘Daily Dozen’

The story starts with Lew Meyer, a civilian firefighter working for the military in South Vietnam. He was captured in 1968 along with twelve others and, after a five month long arduous march, imprisoned in solitary confinement in a dark 8-by-4 foot cell. Meyer exercised whenever possible even when feeling tired or weak, jogging in tiny circles around his cell or doing isometric exercises (see Often Forgotten Isometric Excerices). He continued his routines even when shackled in leg locks, substituting sit-ups for squat jumps and jumping jacks. When he was transferred to a larger cell with roommates, Meyer increased his routines and included his cellmates. At the height of his training Meyer could do 64 one-arm push-ups! One year into captivity they received another cellmate: Jim Thompson, a Green Beret, starved and tortured for five years, weighed less than 100 pounds.

“This guy is dead, I thought… I didn’t know how he stood up, how he breathed, how he did anything…. It took him half an hour to stand… talk about a gutsy guy” (Meyer in Philpott, 2002).

On their first morning together, Thompson tried to join Meyer but was too weak. He could not do a single push-up. Meyer adapted his routine and gradually coached Thompson back to health. Initially, Thompson could only tolerate deep breathing exercises. Then some bending and stretching. Within six month, Thompson completed the daily dozen and that was just the beginning. In time, the two men devised an escape plan. They planned and trained for over a year, making their exercise routine more and more challenging. Stacking their beds on top of each another, they ran laps around their tiny cell. As a group, they held ‘Iron Man’ type contests, one cellmate winning with a count of 501 push-ups, another with 1615 sit-ups. Strenuous exercise was not just a hobby or a way to pass time for these POW’s. It was a necessity. They felt better and slept better; it provided structure and purpose to their days which enhanced confidence. It saved their lives. Meyer describes how other prisoners who did not make any physical effort “all ended up dying within a few years after release.”
This story is undoubtedly extraordinary and quite outside normal life.  However….

Physical Exercise builds Resilience in Civilians too

You do not need to be faced with severely stressful circumstances to benefit from exercise. The Mayo Clinic lists 7 benefits of regular physical excercicse  which shows that exercising be fun but it boosts your energy, improves mood, helps manage weight, combats chronic disease, promotes better sleep and it even may improve your sex life.
As if that was not incentive enough, there is even more to consider about…

Exercise, Resilience and Neurogenesis in the Brain

Aerobic exercises can have stress-protective, anti-depressive and anxiety-reducing effects in two ways through neurobiological and hormonal pathways. First, exercise increasource: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/beautiful-minds/files/2013/05/BrainFitnessLifecycle_CP.jpgses the concentrations of neurotransmitters in the brain such as endorphins that improve mood and serotonin and dopamine that lessen depression. It can also enhance neurogenesis, the making of new brain cells by turning on relevant genes. Second, regular exercise can protect against hormonal effects of chronic stress by dampening the HPA axis and lowering cortisol production which means that the brain is less exposed to this this neuron damaging stress hormone. However, not all studies agree and some have reported negative effects which may point towards the complexities of individual differences, flagging up my earlier point about the importance of tailored ‘sensible’ exercise, finding what is ‘just right’ for you and staying sensitive to that this may change over time. So you will be asking at this stage…

How can I use Exercise to increase my Resilience?

I have some tough but also plenty of encouraging news and, importantly, plenty of practical resources for you as is the norm of this blog. Building resilience typically means that you have to go beyond simply ‘routine maintenance’ exercises to fully tap the ‘good stressor’ effect of physical exercise. You have to challenge yourself – but sensibly so. First, I suggest you check out MindTools Stress Management including the Holmes & Rahe Stress Scale as tools to gain a better insight into good/bad and hidden stress you may never have even thought about. Next, have a look at the NHS’s How Fit Are You self-test or another good resource is the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s Fitness Calculator.  Of course these are no substitutes for getting professional advice from health care and fitness professionals, but it’s a start. One strategy to tap your optimal physical stress level is known simply as “stress inoculation” – first studied by Lyons&Parker (2007). It involves continually pushing the healthy limits of physical strength and endurance. Don’t confuse this with Stress Innoculation Training (SIT) which is a highly successful psychological method of cognitive restructuring (a form of CBT) to deal with mental stress which I will address in a later post. For the moment I want to stay at the physical level and one way of measuring fitness/stress is via your heart rate.

Your heart rate as indicator and how to calculate ceiling and floor for effective exercise

One commonly used way is to first calculate your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. According to the Center for Disease Control, at 50-70% of your maximum heart rate (MHR) lies what is called the moderate intensity heart zone so you calculate

MHR x 0.50  and MHR x 0.70 = floor/ceiling  moderate intensity heart zone

The resulting number represents your optimal heart rate range for moderate intensity exercise such as a brisk walk, water aerobics, doubles tennis, dancing or gardening.
To reach the vigorous intensity heart zone you will have to exercise at 70-85% MHR; so take

MHR x 0.70  and MHR x 0.85 = floor/ceiling vigorous intensity heart zone

Exceeding 85% MHR will not provide any additional benefits and may place an unhealthy amount of strain on your body.

Also, please note that these calculations are only estimates and may vary considerably from person to person also with ethnicity and especially if you are on certain medication or suffer from heart related conditions. Always seek medical advice before embarking on a rigorous physical training programme.
In addition, keep in mind that the above is rather simplistic. Other methods (i.e. see TopEndSports) not only consider your MHR or HRmax, but also monitor your resting heart rate HRrest which gets lower as a result of your heart becoming a more efficient pump through regular exercise. Also, sport organizations such as British Cycling have more sophisticated measures that do not simply start from a ‘generic’ maximum heart rate calculation but more accurately use an individual’s performance as a baseline to calculate several distinct training zones. Do some research and talk to sports professionals that can advise and find out what makes sense for you.

Pysical Exercise and Resilience – other considerations and useful tips

Naturally, this topic is a losource: http://www.inspirewomensfitness.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/fitness-quote-inspiration.jpgt more complex than can be crammed into a single blog post. You must consider other important questions related to physical fitness such as:  is it best for you to exercise alone or with others (or a bit of both), should you hire a trainer so that you can learn proper exercise technique and what about cross-training, combining exercises of multiple disciplines?

There are many excellent books on these topics and information is also available online from reputable sources. However, don’t get stuck and buried in literature. Much more important is to go and just do –  explore fitness actively. Although building physical fitness and personal resilience takes planning, consistency, perseverance and the willingness to live with discomfort it also based on simple drive and desire.
And so, before I go for a long and brisk walk myself now, enjoying familiar views of Fulham and Putney along the Thames rather than the more spectacular cliffs of Portland which will have to wait for another time, I leave you with some final tips on how to start your new exercise regimen, on how to build and expand your personal resilience:

  • learn as much about your body and physical fitness as you can to improve your understanding and find new ways of well being
  • check and discuss with your health professional before starting an exercise program
  • try as many different exercises as you can and consider the benefits of cross-training
  • set realistic goals and stick to them flexibly. Log your workouts to track your progress and celebrate success
  • if a 150 minute/week workout is too challenging, start small and break it down; i.e. British Heart Foundation “Time to get moving” or see videos like Dr Dave’s Daily Dozen Exercises Isometric Arms you can do while sitting at your desk
  • consider working with an experienced trainer as you build and expand your fitness
  • gradually increase the intensity of your cardiovascular and strength training but sensibly so
  • allow for proper recovery between sessions
  • practise healthy eating and sleeping habits
  • find friends and family to support and join
  • notice and focus on the positive feelings and greater sense of capacity and self-esteem you are building through exercise and try to reach a point where physical fitness simply becomes part of who you are

Have a great weekend.
Monika

 


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Cited resources and additional references:

  • British Army Fitness App / MOD: Get fit for the army (PDF)
  • British Heart Foundation: How your heart works
  • Lyons, D.M. & Parker, K.J. (2007) Stress inoculation-induced indications of resilience in monkeys. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 20, 423-433
  • Philpott, T. (2002) Glory denied: The saga of Vietnman veteran Jim Thompson, America’s longest held prisoner of war. New York, NY: Plume Books
  • Stress Management Toolkit for Employers PDF (+ more from HSE Gov UK)
  • The official British Army fitness programme (Guardian article and links)
    US Army Physical Fitness Manual FM21-20; PDF accessed 5/6/15
  • Whitfield, B.e. (2013) A Historical Review and Analysis of Army Physical Readiness Training and Assessment. Combat Studies Institute Press, US Army Combined Arms Center Fort Leavenworth, Kansas (PDF accessed 5/6/15)

 

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Resilience and the importance of Role Models in providing road maps

My last post briefly looked at how older people – I like the term ‘elders’ rather than the usual descriptor ‘the elderly – are not simply a passive risk group but should be viewed and treated as active agents and potential assets in Emergency Preparedness. I mentioned how their decades-long experiences can contribute to being able to find and build on optimism and today I’d like to expand on this by looking at the importance of role models in resilience. Traditionally, role models tend to be seen as older people one looks up (often relatives) to but of course this is only a limited view. Nowadays it is easier than ever to find positive role models of all ages and backgrounds across a many diverse areas.

Everybody needs resilient, positive role models – not just children

Last January when this blog started, I introduced you to Emmy Werner and Ruth Smith who ran one of the first longitudinal resilience studies (see the Resilience – Nature or Nurture post ). They reported what has been confirmed many times since:

resilient individuals have role models whose beliefs, attitudes and behaviours inspire them

Research in teens repeatedly shows that those with role models have a better attitude towards school, better grades and attendance, greater maturity and better mental health with less depression and anxiety (Southwick et al, 2006) . Surely it’s no stretch to claim the same is true for adults of all ages. From where I stand, I see it as only natural that we can all benefit from encouragement from mentors and role models whose behaviour – words and action – motivate and inspire us to continue to learn, adapt and grow. Where children initially learn right and wrong as a foundations of morality, as teens and adults we continue to hone our skills to control impulses, delay gratification and find as well as create healing for ourselves and others.

Your Role Models – who inspires you and why?

some role modelsHow about you? Where do you draw your role models from?

You’ll laugh when I tell you that, personally, I can think back to a long string of personal heroes beginning with – unsurprisingly for my era – Wonder Woman. Yes – ‘oh dear’ indeed! I am no closer to being like her now than back then nor would I ever want to be – and not simply because of  body image and wardrobe issues.

However, Wonder Woman along with many of my real world heroes (i.e. in no particular order Henry Dunant, Aung Sang Suu Kyi, Shunmyo Masuno, May Sarton, Malala Yousafzai) continue to inspire me to connect, never lose interest, courage and the ability to question but also accept.

Role Models do not have to be older, wiser or perfect

Role models do not have to be perfect – actually quite the opposite holds, I believe. Everyone has their own unique strengths and weaknesses which, unlike flawless fiction super heroes, make them authentic and human and therefore much more valuable in that they are real and accessible. Have you heard of the Well Child Awards and the Pride of Britain Awards? Well, you probably have but for me, as a Swiss, this was certainly new. What a brilliant way to honour and highlight how everyday people do astonishing deeds to inspire us all, irrespective of age or background.

How role modelling works – more than just imitation

Imagination and imitation are powerful forms of learning and shape human behaviour. Throughout our lives we learn by imitating the patterns of thought and behaviour of those around us. Often we are completely unaware that we are doing such observational learning. It is not taught. Rather we simply pick it up merely by being exposed to others and the need to belong and fit in.

Matters are more complex, however, for example Bandura’s social learning theory (1977, 1986) holds that modelling involves more than simply mimicry, imitation or observational learning. He suggested that each person is able to integrate thoughts, values, behaviours and emotional reactions that resemble those of a role model but that it could be adapted to fit the particular personality and circumstances of the learner. Suppose, for example, that you know someone who always seems to handle complex and stressful situations with relative ease. You admire this resilient person and wonder how she or he does it. You intentionally begin to observe their behaviour over time and may notice patterns:

  • actively reaching out to others for help, support and assistance
  • adjusting personal pace to build in additional rest and recharge periods
  • upping diet with extra nutrition and taking additional exercise

This observed pattern you can now turn into a rule or model that you can modify for yourself for use during a variety of stressful situations. Doing so and keeping sensitive to what works best for you, you will develop and enhance your own personal resilience.

 What are the most effective ways of learning from Role Models?

Most people benefit from role models without being fully aware of the processes involved. You don’t need to make it into a science yourself but I believe that by taking a more active and conscious role will have benefits in that you learn quicker, can adapt and modify faster to what works best for you.

Like any new skill you start, begin by breaking it into smaller, more manageable chunks until you become better and more fluid at it:

  • observe the role model behaviour in a variety of settings over time
  • practise yourself in between observations for example by first imagining you possess a desired behaviour, attitude and personality style and then by role play (real life enactment is eventually required for successful imitation)
  • get feedback from someone you trust and that has a good eye. Such a person can point out similarities and differences between your behaviour and the behaviour you are attempting to model and may provide suggestion
  • patience! Don’t give up. Changing your behaviour to fall in line with what you consciously desire rather being driven on automatic takes perseverance

That it’s worth the effort is clear for you will gain immensely in realistic self-assurance and suffer considerably less from the inevitable anxieties that life throws us all.

Curiosity is key – acts of observing, listening, questioning, wondering and modelling. When you stay curious with an open mind and heart about your and other people’s worlds and our responses to shared experiences, then we can truly become role models for each another, building understanding and resilience for all of us.

Wishing you resilience building week full of illuminating observations.

Monika


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References/Resources

  • -Southwick, S.M., Morgan, C.A., Vythilingam, M. & Charney, D. S. (2006). Mentors enhance resilience in at-risk children and adolescents. Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 26 (4), 577-584.
  • Bandura, A. (1977) Social learning theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall
  • Bandura, A. (1986) Social foundations of thought and action: a social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall

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Resilience – drawing on Faith for Strength

June marks the beginning of increased emergency preparedness in many parts of the world. Here in the UK and Europe we move to level 1 summer preparedness for heat waves while in the US the Atlantic Hurricane season starts. In addition this year there seems to be a very high chance of another El Nino which will have wide-reaching effects across the globe. See today’s article in The Guardian: How El Nino will change the weather in 2014. It is no wonder then that the web is full of campaigns that aim to raise public awareness for Disaster Preparedness and Resilience. What struck me particularly, however, is a report by Dana Bartholomew from the Los Angeles Daily News.

Faith-based Community Organization to host Disaster Preparedness Events

Source http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/32/Religion_in_SF.pngThis week, she reports that the LA County Office of Emergency Management launches a campaign asking faith-based community organizations to host disaster-preparedness events. US Churches, synagogues and mosques may soon help residents to prepare for what they call ‘the big one’ – an earthquake, tsunami or other major incidents.

I was impressed for it seems that now things are developing in new and promising ways. The relationship between religious or spiritual faith and resilience is supported by scientific research as well as by countless personal stories of amazing perseverance that attest how such practises can provide strength. Now, before I go any further let me state that I’m not religious. Rather, my point of view is humanistic and as such this new and much more open, preventative approach to community resilience by faith based organizations is a brilliant step in the right direction. Rather than being confined to provide support in the aftermath of a disaster there now is the possibility of a real shift in…

  • moving from Faith and Recovery to Faith and Preparedness

This constitutes a tangible power shift that can benefit millions. It has the potential to open the disaster preparedness conversation to a much wider audience, broadening and bridging social understandings. Done sensitively it can inform, support and enable individuals to acquire the understandings, tools and skills necessary to be better prepared for disasters at all levels: as individuals, as families, in their neighbourhoods and wider communities.

Generosity; source http://www.pastormike.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/generosity.jpg

The word ‘religion’ comes from Latin ‘religare’ meaning to bind. One aspect of the relationship between resilience and religion lies in exactly that quality – the particular strength-giving cohesion of a special social group with a particular outlook. The nature and quality of that outlook, however, is crucial. Religious coping is not automatically associated with well-being or resilience and researchers distinguish between positive and negative patterns1. People who see God as punitive and judgemental may feel they ‘deserve’ their troubles, that their fate is controlled by an unsympathetic all-powerful being. This can leave some people with a limited sense of control – a form of learnt helplessness that is difficult to overcome. On the other hand, the associations of faith with positive physical and mental health as well as resilience are well documented 2, particularly in patients suffering from medical conditions. Yet, interestingly, the reasons why this should be so are much less clear. There are a number of factors to consider:

  • regular attendance may foster resilience factors, i.e. optimism, altruism and a search for meaning and purpose
  • interaction with positive and resilient role models that encourage adopting meaningful social roles
  • experience of generosity and tolerance which may trigger reciprocity
  • protection against destructive habits

But of course it’s much more complex than that. The support that practitioners receive may come from their beliefs as well as from their fellow human companions. Most formal religions focus on the practitioner’s personal relationship with a supreme being who, on the positive side, provides guidance, strength and protection. For some people, this relationship boosts their own feelings of inner strength and self-efficacy and helps them to realize what Dante Allighieri described as “Be bold and the mighty shall protect you”– believing that God is at your side may give you the confidence to tackle challenges that otherwise may seem too daunting.

What if you are not religious?

Non-believers like me can and should reclaim the most useful bits of religion that, according to Alain de Botton, have been annexed by the godly. I really recommend his book ‘Religion for Atheists’ (not that I would categorize myself as one) that takes as a starting point the assumption that God is a human creation. See Philosophy now for a book review. The 26th March 2014 issue of New Scientist also has a number of very interesting articles on the topic. On the more practical side, any kind of regular practice that is positively empowering is beneficial. Examples include yoga, t’ai chi ch’uan, qigong, aikido, tantric rituals, sufi mysticism, sadhana, native healing traditions etc. Research testing the effectiveness of these approaches for trauma and survivors is expanding rapidly.

Albert Bandura (Professor Emeritus of Social Science in Psychology at Stanford University): “In order to succeed, people need a sense of self-efficacy, struggle together with resilience to meet the inevitable obstacles and inequities of life”

source: http://offgrid-festival.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/P1150573.jpg

 

Wishing you a great week.

Monika

For more EVAQ8 blog simply use the right hand navigation. For emergency kits and practical resources use the top navigation. For FREE resources head over to our Preparedness Hub and find out why we use humour. If you like this post, please share it to help raise awareness for Emergency and Disaster Preparedness. Thank you!


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References:

  • 1Pargament et al, 1998; Patterns of positive and negative religious coping with major life stressors. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 37 (4), 710-724
  • 2McCullough et al, 2000; Religious involvement and mortality: A meta-analytic review. Health Psychlogy; 19 (3), 211-222
  • 3Streeter et al, 2010; Effects of Yoga versus Walking on mood anxiety and brain GABA levels: a randomized controlled MRS study; Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 16 (11), 1145-1152
  • De Botton, Alain, 2012, Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion, Pantheon Books
  • Lawton, Graham, 2014, Religion without God – and other related articles in New Scientist Magazine issue 9900
  • Cheema, A.R., Scheyvens, R., Glavovic, B., Imran, M. (2014) Unnoticed but important: revealing the hidden contribution of community-based religious institutions of the mosque in disasters. Natural Hazards, 71(3), 2207-229

 

Altruism and Resilience – a crucial yet complex link and why it pays to be kind

updated 10/06/2017

This week saw yet another round of London tube strikes resulting in transport misery for thousands. More are planned next week and to boot there are Firefighter strikes this weekend.

As I set out mostly on foot these last couple of days I noticed both the short-tempered rudeness and hostility of some but even more so the many acts of random kindness of complete strangers that conveyed a deep sense of unselfish solidarity: we’re all in this together – we might just as well make it more tolerable for one another.
Broken chainIt all got me thinking about the crucial and complex link of altruism and resilience and how this connects up to disaster preparedness – say, when – perhaps because of a major incident – we all may have to grapple with the consequences of transport and supply disruptions on a very different scale for real.

Doing a bit of background reading what struck me immediately is the large amount of evidence that supports my humanistically inclined belief of “help others so that they in turn may help you for you cannot possibly do it all on your own”. To many this may sound rather counter intuitive. After all, simply picture a few survivors stranded on an island with limited resources – the toughest and fittest one survives, right? Well perhaps not but we may soon get some real insight and I for one can hardly wait to see Bear Gryll’s new series “The Island” that starts this Monday, 5th May on Channel 4 at 9pm.

In the meantime, however, let us be a little bit less dramatic and consider that survival is both short – and long-term and take a look at how…

Altruism moderates Life Stresses and predicts your Health Status

Altruism, also called social interest, is associated with better life adjustment, better marital adjustment and satisfaction, less hopelessness and depression overall. Being interested in and committed to wide social networks helps you to moderate stress to such an extent that it becomes a good predictor of your physical health status.

MIT researchers Schwartz and colleagues who made these findings also think that the links between social interest, better mental resilience and reduced stress are in turn related to augmented self-confidence, an increased ability to be able to reframe one’s own experience and perceive greater meaning in life. Yet more evidence comes from the influential Hawaiian longitudinal study I mentioned in my earlier Nature-Nurture post which found that children who helped others in a meaningful way (i.e. assisting a family member, neighbour or some other community member) were the most likely to lead successful lives as adults. In short…

Altruism is intrinsic, reciprocal, fosters Resilience – AND IT PAYS !

A large amount of scientific evidence from infant research, experimental psychology and ethology (study of animal behaviour) suggests that altruism has had an important influence on behaviour throughout history and has real survival value. Altruism represents an interesting and complex interaction of environmental and genetic influences – nature as well as nurture, a healthy dose of both. For example, research amongst some South American native tribes revealed that those individuals who produce and share more food than average are rewarded during times of hardship. This discovery led the well-known psychiatrist Yakov Shapiro to propose that this reciprocal altruism has many benefits and rewards:

  • enhanced reputation and power – leading to
  • greater status, esteem and influence within the community – resulting in
  • privileged access to resources when the community faces catastrophic stress

Another author, Michael Shermer, further supports these evolutionary origins of our moral sense commenting that as a species of social primates we have evolved a deep sense of right and wrong. We reward reciprocity and cooperation and find ways to ‘punish’ selfishness and free riding. This emotional ‘barometer’ may be crucial and a hallmark of how resilient people wrestle with moral dilemmas. Importantly, resilient people are perhaps better able to make difficult moral decisions based on a more balanced approach of both reason and emotion.

Resilient people make more Balanced Decisions ~ What would YOU do?
The classic “runaway trolley” dilemma – Come and Have a Go !

If you can’t see the embedded video – here is the link to YouTube

First Scenario:

cognitivephilosophy.net

Imagine yourself watching a runaway trolley roll down a track towards five strangers who would be killed if the trolley struck them. You have the ability to flip a switch and divert the trolley to another track where just one stranger is standing. If you flip the switch, one person will be killed instead of five. What would you do?

In Joshua Greene’s famous fMRI study most participants said that it was morally right to flip the switch.

 

Second scenario:

cognitivephilosophy.net

Now imagine standing on a footbridge next to a stranger and that five people are trapped below in the path of the same oncoming runaway trolley. Pushing the stranger onto the track is the only way to save the other five people. What would you do? The end result of the two options are identical (one person dies and five survive) yet most of Greene’s participants said they would refuse to push the stranger. In terms of cognitive psychology, the second scenario involves far more emotional processing than the first which is shown in the fMRI scan by greater activation of the limbic brain regions – the same areas that activate during fear, another rather important aspect when considering resilience as discussed in my previous post “Understanding Fear”.

So, what has Moral Reasoning to do with Resilience? Choices are complex !

Choices in a real Emergency or Disaster situation more often than not involve dilemmas much tougher than the above trolley example. Sometimes there simply are no “right” or “better” choices; sometimes there are no good choices at all. Understandably, many a survivor is later haunted by memories and questions of “what else could I have done?” It is important to acknowledge that in some situations there may be no optimal moral choice and that resilience is simply retaining one’s sanity after the extreme hardship has passed. And that requires moral courage.

The Good News: you can learn Moral Reasoning and Moral Courage !

Gus Lee a former corporate whistle-blower and later US Senate ethics investigator writes in his book on Leadership: “…courage is not something with which we are born… courage is a learned quality, an acquirable set of skills, a practiced competence. It is like boxing except it is easier, smells better and causes fewer nosebleeds.”

Where do you begin learning Moral Courage? As easy as 1 – 2 – 3 and right at your doorstep

The Guardian

First, following Rushworth Kidder’s three steps process, you must make an honest self-assessment. We all have core values and beliefs. What are they? Which are the most important? Are you living by these principles and values? Are you falling short and where? Are you motivated to change and can you do so?

Second, take all these points and discuss them with a highly principled person you admire. Such discussions can help you to recognize and analyse situations where your actions have moral implications. It also allows you to honestly and openly explore and evaluate the risks and dangers involved in defending your core values.

Third, practise your moral values and try to uphold them in challenging situations. Stay vigilant because it’s easy to relax your values, make compromises and take short cuts. By doing again and again what you know to be right and evaluating that against the reactions of the people that matter to you in your communities you will build a strong moral compass and moral courage.

This is nothing new really for Aristotle already wrote in his Nicomachean Ethics:

“We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts”

Practise makes Perfect – Simple! And where and when do we do all this? Where better than right at our doorstep in everyday life through many acts of random kindness aka altruism; hopefully reciprocal but one cannot always be greedy – besides, altruism and reciprocity work much better on a ‘grand’ scale when freed from simplistic one to one constraints. It all goes towards making our shared realities on planet earth just this much more tolerable no matter what modern life – and the forces of nature – throw at us.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Plato

Wishing you a happy Bank Holiday weekend full of Moral Courage and plenty of Altruism to continue building your ever increasing Resilience !

Monika

You might also be interested in the TED talk on altruism by Matthieu Ricard


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References:

Resilience – Understanding Fear

TED recently published a captivating talk by (now retired) astronaut Chris Hadfield. You might remember him from his unforgettable “Space Oddity” with over 21 million views on You Tube. He describes in vivid detail how his extensive training helped him cope with the complexity, sheer pressure as well as dangerous and terrifying situations not only during his space missions but also in life.

This high-flying astronaut’s totally down-to-earth approach made me realize what a brilliant example Chris makes for Resilience. It got me thinking just how immensely powerful training is – physical as well as mental – in taking control of what otherwise are ‘hard-wired’ biological responses (fight, flight, freeze).

What is fear?

I think we can agree that it is a powerful emotional force that spans a particularly unpleasant inner spectrum ranging from the first stirrings of unease or apprehension to eventually blind terror all accompanied by a large range of physical symptoms. Taking a temperature reading along any imaginary fear barometer for both physical and mental states is a highly subjective affair and you can find lots of free resources on the web if you wish to delve into this further. More importantly is the realization that fear is one giant paradox for it is both real and fantasy – but with very real consequences.

Fear – what Fear? …. a Quizz

You might recognize the following quotes. Go ahead and have a bit of fun: treat them like a quiz. The footnotes will tell you if you got them right.

Fear is not real, it’s a product of the thoughts you create. Do not misunderstand me. Danger is very real. But fear is a choice.” 1

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” 2

Mindfulness is running straight into reality. It does not insulate you from the pain of life – rather, it allows you to delve so deep into life that you pierce the pain barrier and go beyond suffering.” 3

So, what do you think?

Although these quotes come from three very different corners of reality past and present I think they all capture the fear paradox really well.
One further point is also very important I think, especially with the general emphasis tending to value conquering or transcending fear – and that is the understanding and embracing that fear is only human.

Feeling Fear is only Human – Not a Sign of Weakness

Paul KleeFeeling fear is inevitable.

Everybody will feel aspects of the fear spectrum at some time. Fears are thoroughly human emotions. You notice that I’m purposefully using the plural here – for being able to differentiate where on the ‘barometer’ you are when and for how long with what kind of fear is the very first step in taking control.

Get to know your fears and name them.

Fear is normal – the Difference between Fear and Panic is Control

If you learn to control apprehensions and fears you can turn them into assets, treat them like a guide that can help you focus. Fears are normal.

The difference between fear and panic is control.

Fear does not have to shut you down. It can wake you up.

Fear can guide you because you can learn to recognize and respect it. Through training you acquire expertise that will kick in for you should things go wrong where fear suddenly might explodes onto the scene. There might even be an app for that 😉

But how do I go about learning to control fear?

Sure, this is all very well I hear you say, but what kind of training? I can’t train for everything. Besides, my life is kind of just ‘normal’ so what’s the point?

I don’t want to sound like a certain ad but “every little helps” really does apply here – especially if you do a little bit a lot of times. And forming a new habit so to speak does not have to be boring.

Learning to Control Fear is simply Amazing

Go play, have fun – in the real world out there and away from virtual reality screens at least 90% of the time. Try completely new activities – and get good at them. Any new skill or trick you add to your toolbox will come in handy at some time in some way.

Then, at the end of your fun activity where you’ve focused both your mental and physical resources, relax. Well, not quite that fast for here lies another paradox. Relax does not simply mean letting go, tune out or turn off. That would be closer to sleep. No,

I mean learn to relax as in mindfulness training and meditation – which is really just another activity only of a very different nature, even if it sounds a bit alien at first. There are many different approaches out there and so you’re bound to find one that’s just right for you. In the end it will help you further hone your mental focus and resources – which, naturally, adds greatly to your personal resilience; for “normal” life has it’s way of suddenly and quite unexpectedly ceasing to be simply be just “normal” – whatever that means to you now that you’re beginning to be in charge of your fears.

Monika


Thank you for sharing, raising awareness for Emergency Preparedness.

For more EVAQ8 blog simply use the right hand navigation. For emergency kits and practical resources use the top navigation. For FREE resources head over to our Preparedness Hub and find out why we use humour. If you like this post, please share it to help raise awareness for Emergency and Disaster Preparedness. Thank you!

Find EVAQ8 on social media, like and follow us!

join EVAQ8.co.uk on facebook  follow EVAQ8.co.uk on twitter  join EVAQ8.co.uk on google+  discover and share EVAQ8 on pininterest  explore EVAQ8.co.ok on You Tube

  • 1 Will Smith in the 2013 Movie ‘After Earth
  • 2 Frank Herbert, Dune (1965)
  • 3 Banthe H. Gunaranta, Buddhist Monk (year unknown)
  • also see: