Hurricane Irma, a monstrous tropical cyclone and the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic basin, has devastated the Caribbean islands earlier this week and is now set to strike Florida. To make things worse, Jose, another extremely dangerous hurricane with top winds of 155mph, has almost reached category 5 and is now heading toward the Caribbean islands; whether or not hurricane Jose will reach the US and Florida isn’t clear yet. This comes only a week after hurricane Harvey brought flood and devastation to Texas and Louisiana.
Waiting for a hurricane and then dealing with aftermath can be very stressful. Just like anything that is beyond our control, natural disasters can make us feel very anxious; they can make us feel small and weak but also very much alive. Even when we don’t fear for our lives, there is always a possibility of another type of loss — property, business and/or job loss.
Psychological Effects of Natural Disasters
Common psychological reactions to natural disasters may include:
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Disbelief or not being able to grasp reality of the situation
- Not willing to wake up in the morning and deal with life
- Emotional detachment or refusal to act emotionally (this may be a positive way of coping with the situation)
- Emotional numbing or emotional blunting, i. e. disconnection from emotion, which may sometimes lead to depersonalization disorder (DPD). People with DPD often feel as if they are an outside observer of their own thoughts and body.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Feeling helpless
- Worrying about future
- Flashbacks of the events where the person relives these events again and again, which may be accompanied by physical reactions, such as rapid heartbeat and sweating
- Being unable to sleep
How to Deal with Natural Disasters
Unfortunately, not every disaster can be predicted. Although being warned about something terrible buys us some time to prepare and can help minimize damage, thinking about it and waiting for it to strike brings a lot of anxiety.
Before the disaster strikes
- Educate yourself about this particular type of natural disasters as much as possible.
- Take measures to protect yourself and your family.
- Limit unnecessary exposure to stressors, such as excessive news watching/reading.
- Don’t use alcohol or drugs as a way to cope.
After the disaster
- Once again, limit your exposure to images and videos of the disaster.
- Don’t use alcohol and drugs as a way to cope.
- Talk about it if you need to — use your circle of social support to share your feelings and relieve stress and anxiety.
- Write a journal — journal writing may help reduce stress just as well as talking about it. Moreover, it helps organize your thoughts and take important decisions.
- Create to-do lists and check off one task at a time. Your life before and after the disaster may not be the same and you may be left with an overwhelming amount of work. Taking one thing at a time is the best way to stay productive.
- Spend time with friends and family. As weird as it sounds, wars and natural disasters have a tendency to draw people closer. They force us to rely on each other, making us more caring and attentive individuals. Being there for our family, friends and neighbors during and after the disaster is very healthy for everyone involved.
- If you can’t recover emotionally or mentally on your own or if you are experiencing any of the serious symptoms listed above, consider crisis counseling. Crisis counseling or crisis intervention is a special psychological care aimed at helping individuals cope with crisis situation and minimize long-term psychological trauma. This may last from one session to as many as needed and is much more effective than normal counseling. Crisis counseling can be used even before the event is over, which helps improve your chances of quick recovery tremendously.
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