Photo Credit: Jordy Meow, Unsplash.com

NATURAL DISASTER ANXIETY

Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Katrina, The Memorial Day Flood, California Wildfires, The Tubbs Fire, Hurricane Maria . . .

These are a few potentially devastating disasters that we’ve faced across the country–some of which you may have even experienced firsthand. The list goes on to include avalanches, tornadoes, and flooding in many parts of the USA.

In areas of the country that have experienced natural disasters, the sight of a storm approaching, a hint of smoke in the distance, or menacing black clouds in the sky may cause symptoms of anxiety in many residents. Nightmares, difficulty sleeping, staying focused, and mood disorders are reported in those affected by recent events. Many are referring to their experiences as “PTSD” and are using related treatments to help rebound and cope with their new reality.

A NEW NORMAL

Those affected by all natural disasters know all too well the emotional, physical, and financial damages that arise as a result. Residents in these areas have become experts in selecting contractors, understanding complicated city codes, and even reconstructing their own homes. Learning about flood levels, home elevation, and evacuation routes are common knowledge now for those who have been affected.

But what about the emotional toll?

Though measures can be taken to mitigate or repair natural disasters’ physical effects, it isn’t nearly as easy to learn how to cope mentally with flash flooding and fires burning in your neighborhood.

A FEW MEASURES THAT ONE CAN TAKE TO DEAL WITH THE ANXIETY AND STRESS OF NATURAL DISASTER-RELATED TRAUMA:

1: Acceptance of your reality. If you live in a flood zone, tornado alley, or wildfire area, that’s your reality. A natural disaster’s a possibility, and you must plan for it.

2: Accept your feelings of anxiety when a storm approaches, or you see smoke or fire in the distance. It’s perfectly understandable that you might feel your heart racing or experience feelings of dread. Acknowledge this and do some reality testing. “Okay, it’s raining a lot. I hear thunder. I’ve checked the forecast and it’s a fast-moving storm with no rain behind this band.” “Yes, I feel anxious as I see the street filling up with water. I accept that. I choose not to ‘awfulize’ the situation or make assumptions that this is going to be a disastrous situation. Just because it flooded last year doesn’t mean that it’ll happen today.”

3: Engage in a regular meditation program. Clearing your mind and finding peace within yourself can help to keep panic and anxiety at bay.

4: Accept support from friends and family or join a support group. Others have been through similar experiences, and many find peace and closure through sharing those experiences and feelings. My friend Kay** who lost her home of 31 years in the Hurricane Harvey flood water explains that she finds solace talking with others who are struggling with the after-effects of the storm. She feels that other people who haven’t had the experience “start to weary of hearing our ongoing complaints.”

5: Be prepared! Forewarned is forearmed. Have an evacuation route, a disaster plan, and reliable news sources for information. I follow Houston weather forecasters on Twitter. I’ve been surprised at how responsive they are to all of my questions! (Shoutout to ABC 13 Travis Herzog.)

6: If symptoms of anxiety or depression persist, see a professional.

HOW CAN YOU HELP IF YOU AREN’T IN THE CURRENT EMERGENCY SITUATION?

If you’re a person who hasn’t personally experienced a natural disaster, there are some measures you can take as well.

1: Don’t ever—ever—question why a person chooses to live where they do! Such comments and judgments aren’t helpful.

2: Avoid jokes or negative comments about the region or people experiencing the natural disaster. Calling a city cruel names or speculating that a higher power has deemed people in that region sinners is just cruel.

3: Avoid trying to make lemonade out of lemons, Kay also suggests. “Trying to find positives out of a bad situation is understandable, but there’s nothing that makes going through the disaster worth the turmoil and upheaval that follows. Telling a person that ‘now you can have a new house,’ or ‘you’ve finally gotten rid of all of your junk’ is completely missing the point. What helps is acknowledging that what they’re experiencing is truly difficult, and you admire them for dealing with pressure and stress in a horrific situation.

4: Ask how you can help. Contribute financially to a reputable source if you aren’t in the area. If you are in the area and it’s safe, bring over meals, offer to do laundry, babysit, or take on chores such as grocery shopping. The list is endless!

5: Realize that you may have no idea what a person’s experiencing. Don’t take it personally if your phone calls or texts aren’t returned. Let your friends and neighbors know you’re available and maybe take over a meal or fresh coffee.

6: Kay adds, “don’t expect us to heal on your timeline.” She says she and others were dismayed at a local newspaper’s suggestion that flood victims “have moved on.” Kay says she doesn’t know anyone who’s “over it yet.” Those who haven’t been affected have no idea what victims of a natural disaster are feeling. That’s okay. You don’t have to in order to be supportive. What matters is that you’re there to support and not judge the time it takes to heal.

Natural disasters are a part of life. Learning to accept and cope with the uncertainty and turmoil isn’t easy, but it is indeed possible. The emotional results of such devastation leave those affected with symptoms that can be debilitating and frightening. Allowing yourself to understand and ask for help with the emotional trauma is a necessary part of the healing. Because those going through such events develop a mindset of survival and action, the trauma may not surface until lives are more settled, or until a trigger occurs. This is when you can ask for help and begin the healing process.

 

*Song by James Taylor, 1970, Fire and Rain

**Name has been changed.

See Arlene’s essay on Hurricane Harvey and Level 4 Energy. http://www.schneidercoachinggroup.com/2017/09/

Interesting in learning about the benefits of coaching? Contact Arlene at [email protected]

Photo Credit: Jordy Meow, Unsplash.com