Here is an excerpt of an article in the New Orleans paper Times-Picaune:

Productive worrying

Hurricanes may stress us out, but they can also spotlight our strengths
Friday, September 12, 2008

By Chris Bynum

Stress. Tension. Anxiety. Why don’t we just call it what it is: Worry. That pretty much covers all the emotional bases when facing an impending hurricane.

We worry that if we don’t evacuate, we will relive the horrors of Hurricane Katrina. We worry that if we do evacuate, we may never get back home. We worry that if the next storm is a Katrina, no one will return. We worry that any storm could change our lives yet again. So is there a better way to worry so we can put this stress and tension to more productive use?

“Worriers equate uncertainty with a bad outcome,” says Craig Marker, psychologist and director of the Anxiety Treatment Center at Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. In the minds of New Orleanians, a “bad outcome” is their reference point.

“The things that come to mind are the most emotional,” says Marker, who says it makes sense that we would first think of the worst-case scenario. This mindset is called “availability heuristic.”

“It’s the shortcut we take to the worst possible conclusion,” says Marker. But consider the best-case scenario, he says.

“Think about other storms that didn’t have the worst possible outcome (such as Gustav),” says Marker. In other words, what about the storms that passed us by?

Easy to say, right? If it’s hard for you to do, practice “productive worry.”

Prepare as much as you can for the worst you can imagine.

“Then let go,” says Marker. “Once you have prepared, ask yourself if continuing to worry gives you any advantages.”

Maintaining a perspective is another way to create calm before a storm.

“We take other risks in our lives on a daily basis,” says Marker. “Like getting into a car or on a plane.” One reason hurricanes are so scary is that they are not everyday risk factors, he says.

“People who seem to be the most afraid of sharks are those who live in the middle of the country. People who surf every day and are the closest to sharks are the least afraid,” says Marker.

And that is where New Orleanians have the advantage. They have already survived hurricane damage of historical proportions.