Coping with hurricane stress

Natural disasters can take a heavy toll on a person’s emotional well-being but there are ways to reduce stress before and after a storm.

Mental health professionals in Cayman say preparing beforehand is a key coping mechanism – one that will ease fear and anxiety of an impending hurricane as well as help deal with the aftermath should one occur.

‘A big part for families is to have a locked-in plan ahead of time – when to send the kids off island, when to go to a shelter, when to put up shutters. You’ll feel more a lot more confident,’ says counsellor Terry Delaney.

‘Vagueness is difficult to deal with. Having a plan gives you a degree of control.’

He says it’s important families prepare together – such as putting up shutters or assembling a disaster supply kit – to bolster confidence.

‘They will feel a sense of protecting themselves.’

Another anxiety buster is to monitor the storm’s activity.

‘It’s important to have an appropriate way to track the storm, and the Internet is a good one. But get an accurate weather site – not just somebody’s blog that will scare the bejesus out of you.’

Mr. Delaney adds since Hurricane Ivan in 2004, many residents are now much better equipped to deal with a potential disaster. The Government has also stepped up its efforts to protect the island and its people.

‘Having gone through surviving Ivan, we know better how to prepare. It’s one advantage we have,’ he says.

Another way to calm fears is to be realistic about the hurricane season – it doesn’t necessarily spell disaster.

‘I’m not saying let your guard down but just be realistic. Every hurricane season doesn’t automatically mean problems.’

Stress busters

If a storm does hit, there are a number of ways to cope with the aftermath.

Again, be realistic, advises Mr. Delaney. ‘I know myself and others talked about ‘I lost everything’ after Ivan but now when I take a look at my office, my house, my car . . . well, it was a lot, but it wasn’t everything.’

Remember, too, that you’re not alone.

‘Probably the most important thing was the way people worked together after Ivan – everybody was willing to help each other. Just the knowledge that we’re not alone will help.’

Mr. Delaney cautions people not to isolate themselves. Turn to friends, family or a clergy member for support. Sharing experiences and feelings can be highly therapeutic.

‘It’s important to talk things through because it’s cathartic.’

Re-establishing hobbies and returning to some sort of a daily routine will also reduce stress.

‘In the midst of chaos, we need to find some degree of order.’

Mr. Delaney says proper nutrition, regular exercise and rest are critical. These basics, which he dubs the ‘Big 3’, are often overlooked.

‘Those three have to have some degree of balance for us to function well physically, emotionally and in every way.’

Stress, he notes, is a normal reaction to a traumatic event.

Signs of stress can include anger, depression, grief, feelings of hopelessness, trouble concentrating, relentless worrying, difficulty sleeping, withdrawing and forgetfulness.

While it’s normal to be upset and have some anxiety, if it’s impairing daily functioning, it’s a good idea to seek professional help, he says.

‘If it’s stopping you from doing what you need to do, if it’s interrupting your sleep to the point where you can’t function, if it impairs your emotions . . . then it’s time to get some help with that.’

FYI

Cayman Free Press has put together a comprehensive guide on hurricane preparedness.

The free, 56-page special supplement is available at the Free Press offices on Shedden Road.

It is also available online at www.caycompass.com.

Post-storm coping strategies

* Be realistic in your expectations of yourself and others. Expect to be stressed. Give yourself time to heal.

* Take advantage of available support (pray, learn about trauma, seek counselling, learn relaxation strategies, see a doctor for physical symptoms).

* Make connections. Accepting help from those who care and will listen builds resilience. Helping others can benefit you too. Recognizing that you are not alone can make a world of difference.

* Keep things in perspective.

* Slow down! You’ll be more effective and productive.

* Focus on one step at a time. What can you do today to move toward your goals? Then take a positive, productive action.

* Maintain a hopeful outlook. Try to remain positive. Focus on what you want to achieve rather than on what you fear.

* Establish or re-establish healthy routines.

* Nurture yourself. Eat well. Exercise. Allow time for relaxation and fun.

* Learn about traumatic stress.

Avoid:

* Using alcohol, drugs to cope.

* Isolating yourself.

* Assuming you must handle everything on your own.

* Making major life decisions under intense stress.

Source: Mental Health Services

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