Sheltering In Place by Darlene Becker, Sacred Safety Team Leader

What To Expect: Typical Reactions

Shared with you by Darlene Becker, Sacred Safety Team Leader

Sheltering in place can be stressful. If you are sheltering because of an immediate threat of violence or severe weather, your first priority is to ensure that you and those in your care are safe—lock the doors, stay away from windows, and stay in interior rooms if possible.
Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations. Typical reactions to sheltering in place because of an immediate problem include:

  • Anxiety about the situation

  • Fear and worry about your own safety and that of your loved ones from whom you may be temporarily separated

  • Concern about being able to effectively care for children or others in your care

  • Uncertainty, anger, or frustration about how long you will need to remain sheltered, and uncertainty about what is going to happen.

In shelter in place situations lasting longer than a few hours, you may also experience:

  • Feelings of isolation, loneliness, sadness, or boredom

  • Guilt about not being able to perform normal work or parenting duties

  • Fear over loss of income

  • Changes in sleep or eating patterns

Consider the real risk of harm to yourself and others around you. For example, during a situation such as an infectious disease outbreak, the public perception of risk is often inaccurate. Media coverage may create the impression that people are in immediate danger when really the risk for infection may be very low. Take steps to get the facts:

  • Stay up to date on what is happening but avoid watching or listening to news reports 24/7 since this can increase anxiety and worry. Remember that children are especially affected by what they hear and see on television.

  • Look to credible sources for information about the situation.

You can prepare in advance for a potential shelter in place in the following ways:

  • Assemble an emergency supplies kit that includes at least 2 weeks’ worth of water and shelf-stable food, medications, pet food, flashlights, and extra batteries.

  • If you need ongoing medical care for a chronic health, mental health, or substance use condition, learn in advance what to do from your health care or treatment provider if you cannot come to the office or clinic.

  • Develop an emergency plan with family members that includes having each other’s contact information and ensuring that all members will check in with one another as soon as possible if you are not sheltering in place together.

  • Collect fun activities, books, games, and toys that can keep your children entertained, and books, movies, and games that will keep you occupied.


You can do many things to keep yourself calm while sheltering in place.

  • Relax your body often by doing things that work for you—take deep breaths, stretch, meditate or pray, wash your face and hands, or engage in pleasurable hobbies.

  • Pace yourself between stressful activities and do something fun after a hard task.

  • Do activities you enjoy—eat a good meal, read, listen to music, take a bath, or talk to family.

  • Talk about your experiences and feelings to loved ones and friends as often as possible, if you find it helpful.

  • Maintain a sense of hope and positive thinking; consider keeping a journal where you write down things you are grateful for or that are going well.

Staying connected with family, friends, and others you trust is one of the most helpful ways to cope with any stressful situation. Because of advances in technology, it’s possible to connect with others during a shelter in place situation. You can:

  • Take advantage of current technology such as Skype or FaceTime to talk “face to face” with friends and loved ones.

  • If you need to connect with someone because of an ongoing alcohol or drug problem, consider calling your local Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous offices.

Many health care providers can now interact with patients via Skype, FaceTime, or email. In an emergency requiring sheltering in place for several days or longer, such as an infectious disease outbreak:

  • Ask your provider whether it would be possible to schedule remote appointments for mental health, substance use, or physical health needs.

  • Check in with people regularly using text messaging.

  • Plug into social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to gain insight into what is going on in the world—just be sure that sources you follow are credible and avoid sites that produce stress or worry.