The force of nature at its greatest can be a terrifying thing to experience. In the face of hurricanes and natural disasters like Irma, some choose to stay and withhold while others choose to leave, not knowing how their safe place called home will look once they return. Both experiences involve overwhelming fear and moments of intense uncertainty and stress.
Everyone responds to such traumatic experiences in different ways. But when our survival mode is turned on and stays on for a prolonged period of time, there are emotional and psychological consequences. The end of the storm is not the end of the internal commotion it caused in our minds and bodies. When we are not able to deal and process intense experiences of fear or terror, we begin to experience symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and even post-traumatic stress disorder.
After the Hurricane: 6 Things You Can Do to Help Your Loved Ones
What to watch out for?
Anxiety, depression and post-traumatic symptoms come in different forms and at different times. Some people may experience symptoms a week after and some even years later. This makes things difficult, because we have the idea that as time goes by, we heal. The reality is that if we don’t process our experiences, we might repress them and remain unaware of them, even as they are affecting our perception of the world, ourselves, and others. It’s important to remember also that children tend to be more susceptible to developing symptoms, since they don’t have the psychological tools required to process and make sense of intense experiences.
These are some symptoms you can look out for to see if someone you love is experiencing an emotional aftermath of the hurricane.
- Sudden and unexpected outbursts of irritability or anger; intense reactions of anger that are not proportional to the situation and that are uncommon to this individual.
- Sleeping too much or being unable to fall or stay asleep. Here we can also include having recurrent nightmares.
- Being disconnected and withdrawn from others.
- Experiencing physical symptoms of anxiety such as: being unable to relax, feeling uneasy and shaky, feeling nervous, your heart pounding and racing, experiencing hot and/or cold sweats, difficulty breathing, feeling dizzy and lightheaded or even fainting, feeling tingly, and wobbliness in the legs.
- Loss of interest in things he/she used to enjoy.
- Having difficulty concentrating.
- Feeling jumpy and easily startled.
- Having repeated and disturbing thoughts, memories, images, or dreams of their experience with the hurricane.
- Feeling very upset when something reminds this person of their experience during the hurricane.
The presence of these symptoms might be signs of intense anxiety, depression, and/or post-traumatic stress disorder. It is important that they reach out to an expert to help them because if left untreated, it could get worse.
How can I help?
There is so much that you can do to help your loved one as they heal from this terrifying experience. Here are some important tips:
- Normalize their feelings: Many times, when we start to experience some of the symptoms described above, we begin to think that there is something wrong with us. Sometimes some time has gone by since the hurricane, so we do not make the connection with the event. It is important to understand that this is a very normal reaction to such an intense and traumatic experience. Normalizing it and knowing that there are treatments and help available is very important because it provides hope, and helps us keep going.
- Listen, listen, Listen: Allow them to give voice to their feelings. Help them label their feelings. Validate them in a non-judgmental way. Practice your empathy and be very patient.
- Help them take care of themselves: Remind them to eat a good and healthy diet, help them exercise and go out and enjoy the sun and nature.
- Help facilitate a good night’s sleep. Recommend a hot bath a couple hours before bedtime, and using some essential oils to help relax the muscles before sleeping.
- Recommend some mindfulness and meditation exercises, you can also do these together.
- Have fun, find time to play and laugh!