Coping with Stress After a Hurricane

Hurricane Cloud

Our lives here in southwest Florida were dramatically affected by Hurricane Ian. No one could have imagined the damage that would be left in its wake. Many will be dealing with the aftermath for years. It is essential to find healthy ways to cope with stress, loss, and grief after a natural disaster.

For many of you, this is a very present reality. You may have lost everything due to the storm surge that ripped through your house, leaving behind utter devastation. The loss of personal property and sentimental items like photos can feel overwhelming. Some of you lost your homes, your cars, and almost everything you owned. You may have also lost friends, neighbors, or family members to this devastating storm.

After the numbness has worn off you are probably overwhelmed with the emotion of it all. You are dealing with cleanup, insurance adjusters, FEMA, and contractors, and all of it can feel very frustrating and overwhelming.

Common Reactions After a Natural Disaster

  • Feeling numb
  • Overwhelming emotions (anger, frustration, sadness, grief)
  • Difficulty knowing where to begin
  • Poor concentration and feeling distracted
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Distressing memories and nightmares
  • Headaches, body aches, stomach aches
  • Change in appetite
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Using alcohol to cope

Important Ways to Help You Cope After a Disaster

Give yourself time.

It’s important to allow yourself time to come to terms with the loss and to grieve. Even if you didn’t lose friends or family members, you did lose a sense of safety and security. You lost stuff, some of it very special stuff. You may have lost your cars or even your job. Grief takes time. Realize you won’t be past it in a few weeks or even a few months. You may go through a wide range of emotions, including disbelief,  numbness, irritability, anger, sadness, and resolve.

Express yourself.

Share what you’re going through with friends and family. Talking about it can relieve a lot of stress. Talking with other survivors helps you realize you are not alone in what you are going through. You may also want to journal what you are experiencing or express it through artistic endeavors. 

Get back to a healthy routine.

Keep consistent bedtime and wake times. Eat at regular intervals and make healthy food choices. Get regular exercise. Include something enjoyable in your day, like a hobby, playing a game with your family, or watching the sunset. Listen to your body and take a break when you need to. Take a day off from recovery efforts and take time to rest!

Avoid using drugs and alcohol to cope.

While it may feel like it helps with the stress, in the long run, you may only be compounding your problem.

Limit your exposure to the news.

Seeing the devastation and listening to the tragic stories over and over again can increase feelings of trauma.

Keep a list and check things off.

Keep a prioritized list of things that need to get done. Try to work on one task at a time, allowing for necessary interruptions, of course. This will help you be more productive. When you can’t sleep at night because you’re thinking about all the things you need to do, write them down so you can put them out of your head. Having a list and checking them off will keep you moving when you’re too overwhelmed to know what to tackle next.

Ask for help and support when you need it. 

Physical Resources–If you need help with cleanup, there are many organizations that offer volunteer help. There are also organizations providing meals, food supplies, water, housing support, financial assistance, and more. Some of the non-profit organizations that help with disaster relief include The American Red Cross, The Salvation Army, Samaritan’s Purse, and many area churches. Federal assistance information can be found on the following websites:

Mental Health Support–If you need help managing the emotional stress of what you are going through, contact a local counselor who can help you process the experience. Getting help early can lessen the chances of developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Extreme emotional distress 4 to 6 weeks after the event may indicate you are experiencing PTSD. Trauma and PTSD are very treatable, so don’t hesitate to seek help.

EMDR Therapy for Overcoming Trauma

EMDR is a therapy that is highly effective in reducing the distress of traumatic memories. The sooner you process your trauma the lower likelihood of developing PTSD. As a Certified EMDR Therapist, I am trained to help you work through the trauma you have experienced. Reach out today.