With all the attention on securing outdoor furniture, gathering flashlights, stockpiling batteries and water, checking on elderly relatives and staying updated on closings and cancellations, it’s easy to overlook how the preparations and storm itself may affect us on an emotional level.
Experts are reminding those in the path of Hurricane Sandy to be aware that for some, the emotional and psychological reactions may be more challenging than for others. Stress, anxiety, severe worry, and even feelings of helplessness, foreboding and doomsday thinking can take root as storm preparations are in full swing, during the storm and even after it subsides.
According to the New Jersey Division of Human Services (NJDHS), “No one who lives through a disaster is untouched by the experience. Severe storms and flooding can result in emotional distress, as well as property damage. Disasters can threaten our sense of control and safety, and can affect many aspects of our lives. Dealing with the emotional consequences soon after a disaster can help reduce the possibility of long-term problems.”
People can easily become irritable, short-tempered or depressed. Disaster situations could also trigger unhealthy coping mechanisms, so it’s a good idea to monitor our own responses as well as those of the people around us.
“Each person gets through the emotional challenges of a disaster in their own time and on their own terms,” the NJDHS cautions. “The best predictor of how a person will react to a disaster is how they have reacted to other challenges in the past, and likewise, the best strategies for coping now are those strategies that have worked well in the past.
The American Psychological Association advises, “Engage in healthy behaviors to enhance your ability to cope with excessive stress. Eat well-balanced meals and get plenty of rest. If you experience difficulties sleeping, you may be able to find some relief through relaxation techniques. Avoid alcohol and drugs since these can increase a sense of depression and/or impede you from doing what is necessary to be resilient and cope with events.”
Some tips to staying even-keeled throughout the storm and afterwards include: focus your energies on safety issues and specific emergency prep advice; limit exposure to media coverage; rely on credible sources for news and information, and remember that it may not be representative of what’s happening in your immediate area; continue with normal routines if safe to do so; exercise, eat well and rest; stay in contact with others; keep busy; retain your sense of humor. If you or a loved one is sinking, seek help.
Last year, following Hurricane Irene, NJDHS/ Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services Disaster and Terrorism Branch set up a help line: 1 (877) 294-HELP (4357). You can also reach out to the Mental Health Association of Essex County or NJ Mental Health Cares at 1-866-202-HELP (4357).
So as we hunker down together, let’s all keep in mind that the way your spouse, parent, kid, boss or neighbor is behaving may be more about Sandy than about you. Be kind to yourselves and to one another, folks.
Photo: Flckr via Creative Commons