Everyone has been telling us not to panic. The media, elected officials, business leaders, and most people I know on social media have been saying the popular phrase, “Don’t panic.”
What does that even mean? When they say that, what are they actually intending us to not do?
I’m confused about this because panic is not an action. Panic is a feeling. Take it from someone with severe anxiety and panic attacks. Panic is a short, intense burst of severe anxiety.
So, when people say, “Don’t panic” are they really saying that we shouldn’t have feelings of extreme anxiety?
I’m not sure why it matters how I feel.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been experiencing a lot of anxiety. People would, then, repeatedly tell me not to panic. As a result, I’d overthink everything and beat myself up for having so much anxiety. I wasn’t supposed to be panicking.
I’ve spent two years figuring out how to manage severe anxiety. One thing I’ve learned is that:
Anxiety is when you have feelings of fear when there’s nothing to be afraid of.
For example, if I’m worried that my boss will fire me if I tell her I don’t want to do part of my job, that’s anxiety. I did this recently when I no longer wanted to be part of conflict mediation or termination discussions. The reality was that she was completely fine with this request.
To be clear, if there is a legitimate reason to be afraid of something, it’s not anxiety that I’m feeling. It’s fear.
For example, if there is a global pandemic that’s already killed thousands of people and is spreading at an exponential rate, this is a legitimate reason to experience fear.
Another thing I’ve learned over the last few years is that every emotion that we have is valuable. While negative emotions are unpleasant, they are usually sending us important messages. They tell us what actions we should take.
When we experience fear, it means we should take action to keep ourselves safe and healthy.
If we tell people how to feel and say that they shouldn’t be experiencing feelings of fear, we are also telling them that they should not act on that emotion.
Fear is a healthy emotion to be feeling at a time like this. If we don’t experience fear, what will motivate us to prepare?
I’m glad that many leaders in our country have begun to take action. They are encouraging people to work from home, avoid large events, and more social distancing. Even with these measures, it’s likely to get worse before it gets better.
It’s okay to panic, as long as those feelings of panic motivate you to prepare.
Experience with Disasters Motivated our Disaster Preparedness Plan
We’ve experienced some disasters first-hand, and we’ve seen other disasters second-hand. These have all motivated us to create a comprehensive disaster preparedness plan.
We graduated from college in 2009 right after the recession. It was a huge challenge to find jobs. We lived in a high cost of living area and worked low wage jobs for a few years until the economy recovered. Having more of a safety net during that time would have been very beneficial.
When we lived in New Jersey, we lived through both Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Irene. Both of these hurricanes caused extensive damage. We were about 15 miles from the coast. Because of this, we only experienced downed trees that caused power outages for a few weeks. Then, a combination of flooding and power outages caused contaminated water.
While we haven’t personally experienced a house fire, the house that is 4-doors down from us burned down last year. Another multi-family house up the street burned down the year before.
I’ve never been squarely in the midst of a war or political unrest. I did almost get stuck in a tiny town of Nicaragua while I was studying abroad because of election protests. The opposition party accused the ruling party of “ballot-box stuffing.” They protested by stopping all transportation coming and going from where I was. Luckily, they stopped the protest the day before I needed to leave.
Another classmate in my program had a much scarier experience. He was in Managua at the time of the election. He was walking back to his homestay, and he got stuck in the middle of a large demonstration of very unhappy people. He told me that he found a bush and hid there for three hours until it died down.
While I’ve never experienced a pandemic, I’ve watched enough TV shows about epidemics and bioterrorism to have a healthy amount of fear.
We wanted to be prepared if any of these happen to us again or for the first time.
How to Prepare for a Disaster
There are many components to our disaster preparedness plan. It took us a few years to build up this entire plan. You don’t need to do it all at once, but it’s important to get started.
We know that any kind of disaster could cause financial challenges. One or both of us could lose our jobs. The stock market will likely plummet, and products might become more expensive.
This is why we’ve built up a large emergency fund. It’s recommended that you keep at least 3-6 months of expenses saved in an emergency fund. We are more comfortable keeping 6 months or more. Because we’ve also been saving extra money for a rental property, we have almost 2 years’ worth of expenses in cash.
Our emergency fund will help us if we have any large expenses, such as medical or home maintenance expenses.
Our emergency fund also gives us the confidence that we will be okay if one or both of us lose our jobs. We would be able to live for a period of time on our savings without having to dip into our investments.
Because the stock market has dropped, we definitely do not want to take money out now. That would mean that we solidify our losses. It’s much better to wait until the market goes back up before doing anything.
Another important aspect of financial preparation is to spend frugally and figure out where you can cut costs if needed for a period of time. During good economic times, we’ve focused on living well below our means. We save about 55-60% of our income. If we lost half of our income, we would still be able to cover our expenses.
We can also identify areas where we could cut costs for a period of time if needed. Discretionary spending like restaurants, groceries, and entertainment could all be reduced.
A few years ago we bought a fireproof safe. In the safe, we keep cash and all our important documents (e.g. passports, insurance, etc.). In the case that our house was on fire, we could focus on grabbing our dog and getting out safely. Our important documents would be safe.
NOTE: We also have a fire extinguisher, so if we have a small kitchen fire, we could first attempt to put it out ourselves.
We now live closer to the ocean than we did when we lived in New Jersey. If there was a hurricane, it could have a greater impact on us. There could also be other reasons why we might need to get out of town quickly, such as other extreme weather or political unrest.
To prepare for this, we’ve created a “Go-Bag.” We’ve used an old hiking backpack and included all the essentials. If we needed to leave and only had 5 minutes to prepare, we could remove everything from the safe, grab our go-bag, and get ourselves into our car.
Here’s what we have in our Go-Bag:
- First aid kit
- Water filter
- Dog food (1 gallon)
- Spare clothes
- Medicine (Ibuprofen, Migraine, Allergy, etc.)
- Baby Wipes
- Rain Gear
- Garbage Bags (5)
- Work gloves
- Paracord (100 ft)
- Hiking Towels
- Toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss
- Pocket Knife
- Screw Drivers
- Portable Camp Stove
- Pens and Paper
- Playing Cards
What we have easily accessible to grab along with the Go-Bag includes:
- 21 day supply of freeze-dried food
- Water (15 gallons)
Besides our 21-day supply of freeze-dried food, we have extra food stored if we were to get stuck in our house for a period of time.
We tend to buy the vast majority of our food in bulk from Costco. This means that we typically have extra cans of beans, boxes of pasta, bags of granola, etc. We also have a chest freezer in our basement that is full of various types of meat. In our freezer right now, we have chicken breast, chicken thighs, pork shoulder, bacon, ground turkey, and steak. We also have frozen spinach, frozen berries, frozen vegetables, bread, pizza, etc.
If we needed to, we would have enough food in our fridge, freezer, and cupboard to feed us for 4-6 weeks. Yes, this often means our grocery bill is often higher than others (it has come down a lot in the past couple of years). Yet, situations like this remind us that it’s okay to be prepared as long as we don’t let food go bad.
We are also prepared if our water supply becomes contaminated.
We keep 15 gallons worth of water bottles in our basement. These are fresh enough because we swap them out every few years when we go camping. We also have a 7-gallon water container that we use for camping. We can fill this up in preparation if needed.
If we run out of the water from those sources, we can also get the water purifier out of our Go-Bag.
If our electricity goes out for a period of time, it would be unpleasant. Here’s how we have prepared for that.
For light, we have candles, a camping lantern, and flashlights. We also keep quite a few extra batteries in the house.
We would also still able to cook food. The stove in our house runs on gas. We have a gas grill in our backyard. We also have a portable camping stove that we could use if needed.
How This Disaster Preparedness Plan Prepared us for COVID-19
To be completely honest, I never thought we’d actually need any of these supplies. Corey took the lead on our disaster preparedness, and I made light of it. Now, I am very appreciative of his forethought.
As shared above, we have a fully-stocked emergency fund. If we lose our jobs in the upcoming recession, we wouldn’t need to pull any money out of our investment for at least a year.
We could also probably have it last longer because we could cut other costs. There are many categories where we will likely spend less during this time anyways. We will spend less on food while we eat what we have in our cupboards. We likely won’t be eating out much, so we’ll save on restaurants (although I may buy some gift cards for local restaurants). Our entertainment, travel and transportation spending will go down if we aren’t leaving our houses.
This would allow us to not need to pull any money out of the market during a downturn.
Social Distancing or Quarantine
If either of us starts showing any symptoms, we will self-quarantine. We also need to create social distance between us and others even if we aren’t sick. We could be asymptomatic carriers and want to come in contact with fewer sick people.
I’m prepared for the possibility that we may need to stay in our homes (or we choose to stay in our homes) for at least 4-6 weeks.
Here’s how we prepared for this.
We have enough food to last us this amount of time.
Currently, Imperfect Foods is still delivering ugly produce (and other pantry items and meats). This means that we can still get our regular shipments from them. I am prepared for this service to be suspended within the next couple of weeks. We are continuing to stock up on longer-lasting produce, such as peppers, potatoes, brussels sprouts.
If that service is suspended, we’ll likely run low on fresh vegetables and fruits. But, we know we won’t go hungry.
I have prescription medicines to last me for about 4-5 weeks. If we are in our house for longer than that, we’d need to go out and get the prescription medicines. I opted to not go through the hassle with my insurance to get more in advance. The pharmacy that we use is 0.4 miles up the street, so we could easily walk there if needed.
We are also well-stocked on non-prescription medicines including:
- Allergy medicine
- Cough drops
- Emergen-C packets
Because we buy our paper products in bulk, we have a 4-6 week (or longer) supply of paper products and all types of soap and detergent. We didn’t buy more than our typical supply.
Now that I know that toilet paper is being hoarded around the country, I wish I’d picked up one more package. We will have to use it sparingly and hope there is more in stock when we need it.
Unlikely Scenarios that We are Prepared For
It’s unlikely that we would need to leave Boston at a moment’s notice. If we found out that we needed to for some reason, we could quickly pack up and drive to family or friends in Pennsylvania, New York, or Michigan.
At this point, I assume that our water supply and electricity will not be interrupted, but I can’t know for sure. If essential functions shut down and people are unable to work, it’s possible that they could. If this is the case, we have water stored that we could use in the near-term. We would also be able to purify it ourselves in the longer-term.
If we lost power for some reason, I’m sure we’d be a bit bored. We would have light from candles or flashlights, so we could continue to play board games or read. We also would be able to continue to cook using our gas stove, grill, or camping stove.
It’s Okay to Panic and, Then, Prepare
It’s okay to have feelings of fear and panic. If possible, figure out what you can do to help yourself calm down. You want to be able to think rationally about what you should do in this situation.
Ways to Calm Your Panic
You could meditate, stretch, do yoga, take a walk outside (keeping your distance from others), or do some other sort of vigorous exercise if that’s your thing.
You could talk to a friend about your concerns. If you are already being treated for mental health, you could reach out to your therapist. Mine has been willing to do phone sessions, so I don’t need to go see her in-person.
It’s important not to put our heads on the sand, but we also don’t need to be connected to the news 24/7. Figure out the right balance that allows you to stay informed but not become overwhelmed.
Recommended Actions to Take Now to Prepare for a Disaster (if You Haven’t Already)
You won’t be able to create your full disaster preparedness plan overnight. So, I recommend putting the most important aspects of your disaster preparedness plan in place first.
Focus your first efforts on things that would allow you to practice social distancing. Work from home if you can. Cancel non-essential travel. If you haven’t yet, start preparing by stocking up a 4-6 week supply of food, paper products, and medicine.
Our economy is likely to be hit hard by this event. If possible, I’d recommend tightening your budget (after you stock up). We don’t yet know the full impact this event will have on our economy, but it won’t be good. It’s possible that we could see many people lose their jobs or a portion of their income. Because of this, I’d recommend lowering your expenses if possible in preparation if this is a risk for you.
If you don’t have a robust emergency fund, it could also be worth shifting money that would go to investments into your emergency fund.
Even without a lot of time, there are still many things you can do to prepare. Once this is all over, you can turn your efforts to prepare for other types of disasters in the future.
What have you been doing to prepare for the Coronavirus or other disasters?