For people living in the path of a hurricane, the anxiety and distress can be overwhelming.
Uncertainty about housing, work schedules and other life tasks increase when people are evacuated. Legitimate concerns about damage and destruction to homes, streets, and infrastructure accelerate in the midst of constant news about the storm.
An important step is to recognize common emotional reactions while physically preparing for impending changes.
On the 29th of August, 2005 Hurricane Katrina made landfall in New Orleans. I was a first responder to the disaster, and arrived in the area a week after the storm. I found myself in the midst of the type of devastation that I had only seen in movies.
More than 13 years later as we find ourselves entering another potentially devastating hurricane season, it is important to remember that as with any stressful event, the storm can affect individuals in several areas.
Physically it can cause disturbed sleep and appetite, aches and pains; psychologically there will be fear, anxiety, loss and sadness; cognitively, concentration and thinking may be affected; behaviorally many will become impatient and irritable towards others; and spiritually, many will question why the storm has happened.
Children may have their own set of reactions to the storm. Young children (e.g., preschool) take their cues from the adults around them, so monitoring your reactions is important; be a role model for calm behavior. Clingy behavior or other regressive reactions (e.g., nightmares, bed-wetting, somatic complaints) are expected reactions to stress exhibited by children. Hugs and other physical contact can help. Reassure children that feelings of fear, sadness, and anger are normal reactions to abnormal experiences. The following are helpful coping strategies:
- Make an effort to maintain a “normal” routine
- Connecting with others can be a source of support especially close friends, family, clergy, and mental health professionals
- Try to get adequate sleep and nutrition
- Exercising and resting are critical; a healthy body can have a positive influence on your thoughts and emotions, and decision-making
- Draw upon skills that have helped you successfully manage past challenges
In preparation for future storms, emergency preparedness and a safety plan that can be implemented quickly are important for you and everyone in your family, including pets. The American Red Cross recommends an emergency preparedness checklist that can be accessed via their website; the list includes such things as a list of telephone numbers of nearest relatives or people who help, a floor plan of your home with escape routes, and transportation options. Once the storm arrives, getting out safely becomes the biggest challenge.
Although it is important to find out as much information as possible about the storm, once you get to a place of safety, try to limit your exposure to media reports that tend to focus on damage and destruction. This is especially important if there are children around.