As a school counsellor, it breaks my heart that on Monday I have to be prepared to talk to students who lost contact with family members on impacted islands as well as material belongings due to flooding. It took some staff members days just to be able to leave their homes because their yards were so flooded and a lot of people had no electricity for more than 12 hours.
For those who live in hurricane-prone states, you are familiar with the level of frenzy and amount of panic leading up to the arrival of a storm, as well as the residual stress, recovery, and fatigue that remain after the storm. For other types of natural disasters, like earthquakes and tornados, there isn't the same preparation frenzy since these weather events occur with little to no warning, but the aftermath of these weather events are equally, if not more, devastating.
Natural disasters are one of the often overlooked, but psychologically (and physically, financially, socially) devastating types of trauma. Natural disasters can lead to PTSD. Many people relate only combat experiences/war with PTSD, however PTSD can occur from any life, integrity, or body-threatening experience.
While many survive a hurricane with little to no threat to their physical self or property, there are still many individuals who are deeply impacted by the devastation of these storms; we can all turn on the television and see the destructive aftermath of these weather events. If you have personally been impacted by a hurricane or other weather event in the form of significant home damage or loss, or even the impending fear that you will lose everything, you know all-too-well just how to destructive and devastating these storms can be.
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:
Recognise 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. Recognise that you may experience a variety of emotions and their intensity will likely less over time.
Take a news break. A friend of mine told me on Tuesday that she has to turn the news off because she just couldn’t bear to see any more of the devastation. 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 empathise 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. There are lot of organisations and people donating goods and services. Find your way to an outreach centre.
Find ways to express yourself when ready. Communicating your experience through talking with family or close friends, keeping a diary, or other forms of self-expression may be a source of comfort. Find out about local support groups led by appropriately trained and experienced professionals. The Family is the perfect place to start. I lead the teen support group that meets every Wednesday at the office on East Street (across from the Police Headquarters). 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 behaviours to enhance your ability to cope with excessive stress. Eat well-balanced meals and get plenty of rest. I know this is going to be difficult and probably impossible if you’re relying on donations. 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.