Even if you were not directly affected by the hurricanes, you may experience a sense of vulnerability from witnessing the results of the disaster.
This can be especially acute if a relative or friend was affected by the disasters, particularly if you have been unable to get news on their welfare. Here are some tips to help you cope with a hurricane, even when you’re not directly affected by one:
- Take a news break. Watching endless replays of footage from the disasters can make your stress even greater. Although you’ll want to keep informed – especially if you have loved ones affected by the disasters – take a break from watching the news.
- Be kind to yourself. Some feelings when witnessing a disaster may be difficult for you to accept. You may feel relief that the disaster did not touch you, or you may feel guilt that you were left untouched when so many were affected. Both feelings are common.
- Keep things in perspective. Although a disaster often is horrifying, you should focus as well on the things that are good in your life.
- Find a productive way to help if you can. Many organizations are set up to provide financial or other aid to victims of natural disasters. Contributing can be a way to gain some “control” over the event.
- Control what you can. There are routines in your life that you can continue and sometimes you need to do those and take a break from even thinking about the disasters.
- Look for opportunities for self-discovery and recognize your strengths. People often learn something about themselves and may find that they have grown in some respect as a result of persevering through hardship. Many people who have experienced tragedy and adversity have reported better relationships, greater sense of personal strength even while feeling vulnerable, increased sense of self-worth, deeper spirituality, and heightened appreciation for life.
Coping with a Hurricane: When should I seek professional help?
Many people are able to cope effectively with the emotional and physical demands brought about by a natural disaster by using their own support systems. It is not unusual, however, to find that serious problems persist and continue to interfere with daily living. For example, some may feel overwhelming nervousness or lingering sadness that adversely affects job performance and interpersonal relationships.
Individuals with prolonged reactions that disrupt their daily functioning should consult with a trained and experienced mental health professional. Psychologists and other appropriate mental health providers help educate people about common responses to extreme stress. These professionals work with individuals affected by trauma to help them find constructive ways of dealing with the emotional impact.
With children, continual and aggressive emotional outbursts, serious problems at school, preoccupation with the traumatic event, continued and extreme withdrawal, and other signs of intense anxiety or emotional difficulties all point to the need for professional assistance. A qualified mental health professional such as a psychologist can help such children and their parents understand and deal with thoughts, feelings and behaviors that result from trauma.
Thanks for help from: Rosalind Dorlen, PsyD; Richard A. Heaps, Ph.D., ABPP; Rosemary Schwartzbard, PhD; and Suzan M. Stafford, EdD. Special thanks also to the American Psychological Association for permission to reproduce this article here.