How are you doing?
By Alina Gastesi-de Armas, MA, MEd, LMHC
Over the past few weeks, our lives have been greatly impacted by the forecasts and subsequent planning, living through and clean up of Hurricane Irma. Even though hurricanes are natural disasters that cause destruction due to their massive strength, watching the forecasts and predictions for day’s prior can also affect all of us. Individuals lose their homes, neighborhoods, businesses, pets and loved ones, and the experience itself being a part of that or witnessing can have that similar outcomes. Those who have survived a hurricane often feel overwhelming fear during the storm and feel pain, panic and stress when the storm subsides. As a result, it is not uncommon for the trauma to cause high levels of stress, anxiety and other negative psychological conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.
PTSD is a serious mental health condition that severely affects how an individual is able to go about his daily life. While a hurricane can have a negative effect on all its survivors and witnesses, many individuals will eventually be able to move on and recover after a few months. Individuals who develop PTSD, however, will be unable to recover from the traumatic experience on their own due to a number of lingering symptoms, including the following:
Re-living the trauma – This can cause the individual to frequently re-experience the trauma through nightmares and flashbacks. Reminders of the event can cause strong feelings of distress as well as an increase in heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature.
Avoidance symptoms – An individual may subconsciously avoid everything that reminds him of the traumatic event such as thoughts, feelings, places, people and conversations. This can cause self-isolation, trust issues and a loss of interest in old activities and hobbies.
Hyperarousal symptoms – In response to PTSD, the high levels of stress may cause the body to respond with hyperarousal symptoms, including difficulty falling asleep, irritability, feeling threatened, having difficulty concentrating, being easily startled and having angry outbursts.
The Dangers of PTSD after a Hurricane
While the effects of PTSD are dangerous to all, they can be especially difficult for those who have survived a hurricane or other natural disaster. It’s been 25 years since South Floridians lived through Hurricane Andrew. Many of those individuals are especially vulnerable to debilitating anxiety and stress reactions. The loss of power, hours of listening to the whipping winds and the endless clean up that ensued after the storm are all taxing on the calmest of individuals. It is important to keep up with and check in on the elderly
Often people use coping mechanisms that cause more destruction than they anticipated. In order to alleviate the stressful reactions of depression, anxiety and other painful emotion some individuals use drugs or alcohol. Unfortunately, drugs or alcohol abuse only worsen the symptoms of PTSD and brings their own set of consequences.
How to Cope with Surviving a Natural Disaster
Those who have been affected by a natural disaster can take advantage of several resources that may help them cope and reduce the damage caused by the event. An individual can reduce the chances of developing PTSD by taking certain precautionary efforts, including the following:
Find a support partner—someone who you can count on to talk about what you are thinking and feeling. They may seem to be coping better than you or may be out of the area and able to listen without judgment.
Find a local support group—Local community centers, churches or government centers can provide you with more information about the formation, times, and places where these may be offered.
Make an appointment with a professional who specializes in trauma related issues—Some therapists, psychologists and life coaches are very effective in helping you or your loved one process the emotions that are causing stress.
Communicate and express feelings—Be mindful of social isolation and beating yourself up about “not being strong enough”. Everyone processes these events differently its okay to talk about it.
Try to set a regular schedule to follow which can help you return to normal life.
Get enough rest, receive proper nourishment and maintain physical activity
Learn to recognize and manage stress or other negative emotions
Need Professional Help for PTSD Resulting from a Natural Disaster?
If you or a loved one has been affected by the effects of this hurricane season and are looking for professional help for symptoms of PTSD, please call A Place for Growth 954-384-9373. Our Counselors and Life Coaches are well equipped to help you.