When I heard that Hurricane Matthew was coming, I immediately thought of how scary it was, having lived on Long Island during Sandy.
I thought of the falling trees, crackling electrical transformers, loss of homes, cars, pets and the financial strain, and I had an immediate feeling of dread.
When a hurricane strikes where you live, it is common to experience intense emotional reactions. Seeing the resulting damage to infrastructure, it is normal to feel strong emotions and a sense of loss of control.
Additionally, if you found it difficult to abide by the mandatory evacuation, you might feel frightened and confused.
You are not alone, and the fear is contagious. Understanding normal reactions to such extreme events is a helpful tool and can aid in coping successfully.
Common emotional reactions of children and families exposed to a hurricane include:
- Feelings of shock, insecurity, anxiety, fear, and unfairness
- Worry and anger about the future fear that another hurricane will hit them again
- Disruptive behaviors, irritability, temper tantrums, agitation, hyperactivity
- Clinging and dependent behaviors, and avoiding certain activities or situations
- Physical symptoms such as stomachaches, headaches, changes in appetite, nightmares and sleep problems might emerge
- Pre-existing conditions might worsen due to stress
- Increased worry about the safety of loved ones
- School problems such as reduced motivation and school attendance
Adolescents might become more socially withdrawn, angry and irritable, and might engage in more risky behaviors and have more conflicts with authority.
Reminders of the event might trigger memories, fears, thoughts and body sensations. These reminders might include weather alerts, sudden onset of dark clouds, and lightning and heavy rain.
It is important to realize that there is no one standard pattern of reaction to the stress of the hurricane. Some people respond immediately while others have delayed reactions.
What steps can you take to help restore emotional well being and a sense of control? The American Psychological Association (APA) has made the following recommendations:
- Recognize that this is a challenging time and that you have tackled hardships in the past. Tap into the skills that helped get you through past challenges.
- Be patient with yourself and the changes in your emotional state.
- Give yourself the time to mourn your losses.
- Engage in healthy behaviors to enhance your ability to cope with the additional stress. For example, eat healthy meals, exercise, get enough rest, use relaxation techniques.
- Re-establish normal routines.
- Avoid constantly watching weather reports.
- Avoid making major life decisions .
Individuals with prolonged reactions that disrupt their daily functioning should consult a mental health professional.
Janet Meyer, MSW, LISW-CP is an associate with Psychological & Counseling Associates of the Lowcountry, LLC in Bluffton.