Up in Smoke: Facing the Fire Threat on Top of the Rest

By Emily Phifer, M.S. MFT


Approaching Burnout

How are we to manage the fatigue of yet another threat (that of fires), on top of the Covid-19 specter which has been looming large for the past 6 months, and the racial upheaval and political unrest fueling division in our country? If you’re approaching burnout right about now, wondering how to keep putting one foot in front of another, you’re not alone. With the recent added trauma of the devastating West Coast fires, this year has just served up yet another whopping stressor to add to the heaping platterful that has proven to be 2020.


Quarantine Within a Quarantine

If you’re stuck inside- living in “a quarantine within a quarantine”, so aptly identified by author Cheryl Strayed (“Wild”)- you might find yourself fighting a rising panic, a mounting sense of powerlessness, or both. When we lose agency due to forces outside of our control, it is normal to feel a resulting range of emotions: depression, lethargy, helplessness, frustration, irritation, defeat, exhaustion, discouragement, and apathy. The cumulative effect of a global pandemic, the political and social unrest throughout the country, and now the fires sweeping the West Coast, is staggering. Many of us have become overwhelmed, overcome, and tired.


What Now? 

At present, we may be spending sleepless nights wondering about evacuation. We may be overseeing children stuck inside for virtual schooling and shelter from toxic air, whilst wondering how we will make ends meet as the country continues navigating life during a pandemic. As a result, we must dig deep for what we can cling to at times like these. Because functioning with stacked stressors on an ongoing basis requires us to conserve our energy and hone our focus.


Action Steps


 What can actually help make a tangible difference for us at times like these? Here are a few ideas:


  • Finding a safe way to connect with others enables you to feel seen, heard, and less alone
  • Focus on meeting basic needs like getting a shower, eating meals, and drinking water
  • Try to get adequate sleep to refuel from the toll of stress
  • Pray, listen to music, meditate
  • Practice yoga, dance to a favorite song, do simple stretches to release stress from your body
  • Focus on the next daily step required of you, and set reasonable expectations of yourself
  • Limit your intake of social media if you are feeling drained and overwhelmed
  • Find and have ready an evacuation checklist, to help reduce anxiety
  • Focus on what you CAN control, vs. staying defeated by what is NOT within your control


Tools like “the Wheel of Control” (Ashley Taylor, Psy.D. and Dr. Jamie Chaves) can help us learn how to focus our energy, determining where we can effectively exercise some control. Finding some small shred of agency increases our capacity to face the next thing required of us.

First Things First

When we identify what is out of our control- global pandemic, political climate, fires, illness, others’ behaviors, what others think of me, traffic, and the weather– we open up space to release what we cannot control, and focus on what we can. Here are a few things within our control- my decisions, my efforts, nutrition, how I care for myself and others, my boundaries, my actions and my thoughts. By focusing our energies on attainable and controllable basics, we can find a way forward day by day. 


What small step can you take forward today? 


For a fire evacuation list resource, please check out:

We've created a printable guide to prepare yourself and your family for a possible evacuation. Don't wait until it's too late, #BeReady.

Posted by Humboldt County Office of Emergency Services on Friday, September 11, 2020