Even those of us not directly affected by the unprecedented bushfires can still be feeling distressed and helpless. This is a normal reaction to witnessing the level of destruction going on recently here in Australia (even if we only see it on the TV). So how should everyone, especially seniors who are in a frail state of mind or body, stay safe, help others, and manage their own distress?

If you live in a potential bushfire-affected area, make sure you have a plan and have discussed it with your family or carer. All retirement homes also have evacuation policies in place. If you don’t drive, talk to family and neighbours about whether they can help you evacuate. Keep up to date with warnings via the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) Fires Near Me app, or by listening to local ABC radio (702 am). See the RFS website for more advice on preparation for fires.

If you are talking to a loved one who lives in a fire affected area, there are several things you can do:

• Listen, support and reassure them.

• Read about how to help e.g. bushfire pages on the Australian Red Cross, or the Australian Psychological Society website.

• Put them in touch with services available to help practically (if needed) such as the Disaster Welfare Assistance Line 1800 018 444.

• If you’re worried that they may be having a more severe stress reaction, encourage them to talk to their GP, or to ring helplines such as: Beyondblue 1300 22 46 36 or Lifeline 13 11 14.

• Ask your friend how you can help.

• Be patient with them.

• Look after yourself too!

If you’re not directly affected: keep to normal routines, don’t dwell on the negatives and enjoy pleasurable activities when possible. If you can, help by donating money to charities such as the Australian Red Cross, RSPCA or WIRES.

Dr Sue Ferguson is an Honorary Associate Lecturer in the Department of Psychology at Macquarie University.