Anxiety levels skyrocketing

Hurricanes Emily and Dennis may have spared the Cayman Islands but the back-to-back storms have renewed stress and anxiety across the island, says a local mental health professional.

‘The fear is growing,’ said private counsellor Terry Delaney.

‘People are stressed out because they’ve done all the things that needed to be done, and they still don’t know what’s going to happen.

‘Things haven’t changed much and people are reacting to that. It’s almost like a fluctuation between anxiety and depression – from being totally fed up and at the same time apprehensive about what’s next.’

With the after-effects of Ivan still reverberating – not to mention the forecast of an active hurricane season still to come – emotions are running high, he said.

For many, the threat of the last two hurricanes brought back the traumatic events of Ivan, he said.

‘Emotions don’t just go away. So when we get even a blast of wind, people will get the emotions back they had during Ivan.

‘If there is a low-level of post-traumatic stress, it gets triggered real fast.’

It’s put people are on edge, and at each other’s throats.

‘The one thing we’re seeing society-wide is the stress levels are really pushing irritability. People are barking at each other – I hear that at workplaces and with families all over the place.

‘That’s a lot of what’s happening with all the traffic accidents. People are distracted and not paying attention. We have to work on getting some of the anxiety levels down.’

Fatigue is another big concern, he said. People have been pushing themselves without taking time to relax or have fun.

‘Every day I see people I realize just how incredibly exhausted we’re getting. There isn’t time off,’ he said, noting many not only had to prepare their home for the storms but chip in at their workplace as well.

‘The fatigue level is getting really high here and that brings emotions to the surface also.’

Mr. Delaney said people need to be upfront about their feelings – if they’re feeling anxious or short-tempered, they should talk about it with friends, family or co-workers.

‘Just say, I’m on edge and if I bark at you, I’m sorry. If you say it ahead of time, you’re preventing a whole lot.’

Easing anxiety

There are also steps to take to help ease tension and anxiety about the hurricane season. Mr. Delaney recommends a simple exercise that, if people stick with it, will help.

‘Literally set an evening aside for either an individual or a family to talk about and feel your emotions about hurricanes. Talk about how scary last weekend was and kind of get it out of your system.’

Setting aside a time to work through emotions and worries will help clear people’s minds during the rest of the week.

‘Once the mind is trained to do that, then during the week if it pops up, we can go, that’s for Tuesday night, and set it aside until then. If you do your worrying then, the rest of the week is going to be a lot easier.’

People also need to reassure themselves that they’ve done all they can to prepare for a storm. Once that’s done, it’s critical to accept the emotions that may surface.

‘If you feel scared, worried or apprehensive, say so to somebody. Holding it in is not good.’

That’s especially important for parents, he added.

‘Parents think they need to act strong for the kids but that can end up causing a meltdown. Parents are much better off saying, boy it really scares me too but here’s what I do when I get scared.

‘Parents need to teach their kids to accept and deal with fear because the reality is, emotions never hurt anybody.’

Other recent events, including Cayman’s rising crime rate, are adding to people’s anxieties.

‘This society was going to experience growing pains no matter what but Ivan has magnified them. There is still a lot of sadness, a lot of losses.’

Stress and anxiety is taking a toll on relationships as well.

‘The big thing still is the effects of separation on families. Some have spent eight to 10 months apart because they waited until school ended to bring the kids back. Relationships are massively strained.’

That’s not to say it’s all bad news. The latest storm rekindled a sense of community and togetherness that was keenly felt after Ivan, he said.

‘We are a society and we are all here to help each other. As a country we did really well last time. The damage was enormous, I’m not minimizing that, but as a group of people we pulled together. In the end, we beat Ivan.’