7 Tips for Coping with Life After a Hurricane

Life after a hurricane or other natural disaster is rarely easy. Not only do you have to meet your basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter, but such events also take a significant emotional toll. Losing your home or coming back to a home full of water, or that’s been significantly damaged, can be devastating.

Six years ago, I wrote some helpful tips on how to cope with a hurricane. I’m updating and expanding upon that list now, as Hurricane Matthew threatens Florida and the entire eastern seaboard of the United States. Here are some helpful ways to cope with life after a hurricane.

Coping with life after a hurricane and picking up the pieces can be a heartbreaking experience. Prepare yourself now for the worst. That way, if something other than the worst happens, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Many people who live through the impact of a significant storm describe returning to their homes as a very trying experience. When your home has suffered significant damage, you may go through a period of grief and upset, similar to the five stages of grief and loss.

You may not think about all of these things ahead of time, but if you have time to be as prepared as possible, you’ll be thankful later on.

1. Have a plan

People with a plan in trying times feel safer and more in control of their lives, even when a natural disaster strikes. That feeling of being in control is important to our everyday anxiety and stress levels. When people feel out of control, they don’t usually think as clearly, suffer from memory lapses, and may have a physically compromised immune system.

Even if the plan is as simple as – “Pack things for three days in a suitcase, make arrangements for pets, stay at shelter until it passes” – it’s a plan.

2. Communicate that plan to loved ones

Nothing is more worrisome than not hearing from family members or friends after a storm has passed, and not knowing where they ended up (shelter? hospital? worse?). Communicate your intentions to others so folks know where to check to see if you’re alright. Remember that things we tend to rely on for everyday life — such as mobile phone service — may not be available in the aftermath of a storm. Let others know if they haven’t heard from you in X days, it may be time to start worrying about you.

3. Have a list printed of important names and numbers

Nowadays, most of us keep that list of important names and numbers — you know, like your insurance company — in our smartphones. But what if your smartphone runs out of power and the power is out wherever you’re staying? You may be needlessly waiting and worrying, or feeling more out of control than necessary.

Write down (or print out) a list of important names, phone numbers, and account numbers, and keep it with you at all times. Take out some cash from the ATM machine beforehand too, as a power outage may make purchasing things by cash the only option after a storm.

4. Make new friends

Common experiences are what bond us together, in good times and in bad. It may seem like a strange opportunity to look at time spent in a shelter or at a friend’s inland house as an opportunity to make new friends or strengthen existing bonds. But such experiences tend to bring people together — if you allow yourself to be open to just accepting whatever happens will happen.

Neither you nor I can stop a hurricane and the destruction it brings. But we can control the way we react to it.

5. Don’t rush the aftermath

All too often people will want to rush back to their home, not realizing their home may not be fit for habitation for some time. Electricity may not come back online for days. Fresh water and sewers may not work. Water in the streets and elsewhere may need time to recede.

While you should check on your home when authorities tell you it is safe to do so, don’t automatically expect to go back to living in it immediately. Ensure you have a backup plan for staying some place for a few days (a friend’s or family member’s home, hotel, etc.). Even if you end up canceling the hotel reservation or friends’ invitation to stay with them, it was good to have a standby just in case.

Stay off the roads, too, if you have no immediate need to go out. Roads may be blocked and are needed most for emergency services and utility crews.

6. Don’t contact emergency services needlessly

Everyone has just been through a disaster in your area, maybe even in your entire state. They can’t help you pump water out of your basement, clean up the mildew mess from water that got in and ruined everything, or help you with repairs. So please don’t call the police, fire, or ambulance services unless it truly is a life-threatening, immediate emergency. Emergency responders are all spread thin, likely haven’t had much sleep for days, and need to focus on the most severe emergencies at this time.

7. Remember you will survive this

Although it may feel like it’s the end of your world, let me assure you that you will indeed survive this. Possessions can be replaced, property repaired. The only thing that is truly irreplaceable in this world is you and your loved one’s lives. As long as all of you have come through this storm with your lives and health intact, you have much to be thankful for.

Good luck with the aftermath of the storm. From all of us here at Psych Central, you will be in our thoughts and prayers.