Coping with a Hurricane: How do people respond differently over time?
It is important to realize that there is not one standard pattern of reaction to the extreme stress of traumatic experiences. Some people respond immediately, while others have delayed reactions sometimes months or even years later. Some have adverse effects for a long period of time, while others recover rather quickly.
And reactions can change over time. Some who have suffered from trauma are energized initially by the event to help them with the challenge of coping, only to later become discouraged or depressed.
A number of factors tend to affect the length of time people need to recover from the storm, including:
- The degree of intensity and loss. Events that last longer and pose a greater threat, and where loss of life or substantial loss of property is involved, often take longer to resolve.
- The duration of exposure to the events and damage of the events can have an impact on those involved.
- A person’s general ability to cope with emotionally challenging situations. Individuals who have handled other difficult, stressful circumstances well may find it easier to cope with the trauma.
- Other stressful events preceding the traumatic experience. Individuals faced with other emotionally challenging situations, such as serious health problems or family-related difficulties, may have more intense reactions to the new stressful event and need more time to recover.
Coping with a Hurricane: How can I help myself and my family?
There are a number of steps you can take to help restore emotional well being and a sense of control in the wake of the hurricane or other traumatic experience, including the following:
- Recognize that this is a challenging time but one that you can work to manage. You’ve tackled hardships at other times in your life. Tap into the skills you used to get through past challenges.
- Allow yourself to mourn the losses you have experienced. Try to be patient with changes in your emotional state.
- Take a news break. Watching replays of footage from the hurricane can make your stress even greater. Often, the media tries to interest viewers by presenting worst case scenarios. These may not be representative of your home or community.
- Ask for support from people who care about you and who will listen and empathize with your situation. But keep in mind that your typical support system may be weakened if those who are close to you also have experienced or witnessed the hurricane.
- Communicate your experience in whatever ways feel comfortable to you such as by talking with family or close friends or keeping a diary.
- Find out about local support groups led by appropriately trained and experienced professionals. Support groups are often available in communities following large-scale disasters. People can experience relief and comfort connecting with other hurricane survivors who have had similar reactions and emotions. These can be especially helpful for people with limited personal support systems.
- Engage in healthy behaviors to enhance your ability to cope with excessive stress. Eat well-balanced meals and get plenty of rest. If you experience difficulties sleeping, you may be able to find some relief through relaxation techniques. Avoid alcohol and drugs since these can increase a sense of depression and/or impede you from doing what is necessary to be resilient and cope with events.
- Establish or reestablish routines such as eating meals at regular times and following an exercise program. Take some time off from the demands of daily life by pursuing hobbies or other enjoyable activities.
- If possible, avoid major life decisions such as switching jobs because these activities tend to be highly stressful.
Association, A. (2010). Managing Stress After a Hurricane. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 9, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/managing-stress-after-a-hurricane/0004365
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.