Are You Emotionally Ready for Hurricane Season?Jun 30, 2023 08:54AM ● By Courtney L Whitt
Healthcare Network’s Outreach team shares holiday gifts with members of the community. PHOTO COURTESY OF HEALTHCARE NETWORK
Anyone who has lived in Florida from spring to fall knows the drill. Put together your emergency preparedness kit, prepare an emergency plan and your home, review your insurance policies, and know your evacuation zone.
The 2023 hurricane season, which typically peaks from August to October, offers an additional challenge: disaster-related stress.
Southwest Florida suffered a major traumatic event with Hurricane Ian, and many people are still dealing with the impacts, including to their mental health. Ian resulted in trauma for many, including losing homes, businesses, community, belongings, loved ones, and a sense of safety.
Right after the storm, people were despondent and dispirited. There was an increase in symptom severity and functional impact of existing mental health conditions, as well as unhealthy behaviors to cope, such as returning to or increasing use of substances. In the past several months, there has been another wave of mental health impacts from the storm, as people who may have delayed contact with healthcare as they addressed storm damage are now seeking help.
Anxiety, worry, trouble sleeping, and depression are common after a storm. The impacts for many were severe enough to result in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Many triggers such as smells, sounds, and other sensations can renew feelings that occurred before, during, and after
PTSD includes symptoms that persist for more than a month, including flashbacks, nightmares, reactions to triggers, being fearful or easily frightened, insomnia, lack of interest in activities, and a feeling of numbness or difficulty feeling positive emotions. If these symptoms are severe or long lasting, it is important to contact your doctor.
But the community has also shown resilience throughout recovery from Hurricane Ian, and this along with coping techniques may lessen the mental health impact of the current hurricane season.
There is no right or wrong way to feel, but it is important to find healthy ways to cope during hurricane season. Here are a few tips:
• Plan and be prepared. For some, feeling empowered will help ease anxiety. Try to convert concerns into actions but recognize that some things are beyond your control.
• Recognize and accept emotions of sadness, anxiety, numbness, anger, fear, or confusion. It is OK to have these emotions.
• Practice deep breathing and mindfulness. Deep, intentional breathing can help diminish anxiety and has numerous other health benefits. Meditation, body scanning, guided imagery, and other techniques can help calm people.
• Talk to friends and family. Family members, peers, neighbors, and friends are important in helping to prepare, endure, and restore, and can be extremely helpful when talking about fears and feelings.
• In the event of a storm, gather information from credible sources to determine your risk. Limit exposure to news reports that focus on damage and destruction.
• Stay healthy with proper diet, exercise, and rest. A healthy body has a positive impact on thoughts, emotions, and decision-making.
• Support your children. Restrict constant news reports and give them realistic assurances about safety plans. Encourage children to talk about their feelings and try to maintain routines as much as possible.
• Remain hopeful. Draw upon skills that have helped you successfully manage past challenges.
• If you feel overwhelmed during a storm, the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has a 24/7 Disaster Distress Helpline and crisis counselors available to anyone affected by a natural or manmade disaster. English and Spanish speakers can call or text the helpline at 1-800-985-5990 or go to Disaster Distress Helpline
Seeking behavioral health services does not mean something is wrong with you or a problem lies within you; sometimes the problem lies in life and the state of the current world. Behavioral health services are available for anyone who needs help finding some new perspectives or strategies to cope, and they are important for overall wellness.
Courtney L. Whitt, Ph.D., is director of behavioral health at Healthcare Network, which offers behavioral health services as a routine part of comprehensive primary care, and the Center
for Psychology and Wellness at Nichols Community Health Center in Naples, offering behavioral health services for children, adolescents, adults, and seniors without a physician referral.
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