Consider the following story as it relates to this week’s topic.
Back in college, I was in a serious car accident during a heavy rainstorm. I was driving as safely as I could, but I still wrecked after hitting some water which caused my car to hydroplane out of control. I lost consciousness and was awakened by first responders some time later. It took a few weeks to mostly physically heal from the aches, pains, and cuts, but mentally, I still haven’t recovered. It’s been several years, but every time it rains, I become anxious. I have trouble breathing and I’m reluctant to set foot in a car if there’s even a drizzle. It’s so bad that I’ve canceled job interviews and get-togethers simply because the thought of driving during a downpour terrifies me. And on top of that, I live in Florida where it rains practically every day in the summer. How can I overcome this?
It’s hurricane season, and in Florida, these storms not only pose a threat to our beautiful beaches and properties, but they can also negatively affect our mental health. Anxiety and overwhelming fear about what might happen, especially if something weather-related happened to you in the past like our vignette above, can be common.
If you struggle with anxiety or depression because of past events or can’t seem to calm your nerves every time storm season rolls through, then you aren’t alone. Our licensed psychologists and therapists in Tampa are here to help by providing some clarity on how to maintain good mental health during hurricane season.
Unlike our friends on the west coast who experience earthquakes with little-to-no warning, we in Florida know when a hurricane is approaching. That’s the silver lining here. And like everything else in life, preparing for Mother Nature’s worst can be mentally draining, especially if a past incident brings back tough memories.
Dr. Eric Storch, a colleague and psychologist who recently left Tampa to work at Baylor College of Medicine, recently wrote a blog providing tips on developing a family emergency plan that might help ease some stress and anxiety before a storm. A few include:
- Memorize evacuation routes and the locations of shelters.
- Choose a reliable source of information.
- Make a list of important items you’ll need if an evacuation order is given.
- Know what your workplace and children’s school emergency plans are.
- Plan how your pet will be cared for. Will they be joining you in leaving home or is a pet shelter an option?
- Review your plans often with family.
Rice Psychology Group suggests talking with your children about hurricane season and what might happen. Do so without using frightening language or details. Ask what they’re thinking about and how they feel.
Storch writes, “Kids are quite resilient, but you want to be mindful of how traumatic symptoms may display after disaster exposure. Such problems – which can include distressing recollections, fear, somatic symptoms, and behavioral symptoms – can escalate over time. It is important to be open to talking about their fears with them and explaining disasters in a way they can understand.”
Learning to Cope
Many of us in Florida, other parts of the Gulf Coast, and up and down the East Coast have experienced hurricanes and other major storms. Whether it was Hurricane Michael in 2018 or something as wild as the blinding rain and wind I drove through recently in Tampa, weather or storm-related anxiety can make these weather events feel terrifying and without end. Please know that you aren’t alone and that simply trying to ignore your anxiety isn’t the solution.
If you also experience trouble eating or sleeping, find yourself obsessing about the weather, or feel emotional distress just at the thought of a hurricane striking Florida, then it may be time to seek help or talk to us. In the meantime, we recommend the following tips loosely-based on the blog linked above if weather-related anxiety strikes:
- Take deep breaths. Focus on breathing in a mindful way.
- Turn off the news and headlines about the weather once you have the facts. Make a plan and go about your business.
- Talk with a friend or loved one to ease your worries by hearing a familiar voice.
- Read a book, listen to some calming or uplifting music, or indulge in another hobby to take your mind off of what’s bothering you. Yes, distraction is a great coping strategy.
- Acknowledge your feelings and remember that you’ve survived and thrived in countless storms in the past.
Let’s Get Through This Together
If we’ve learned one thing in 2020, it’s that we have to learn to cope and deal with things we can’t control, like the weather, in a positive and healthy way. If you’re living with trauma from a past experience or certain situations are causing fear and anxiety, then know we’re here for you. We’re offering private, online sessions via telehealth as well as a limited number of telehealth evaluations for all ages. For more information about this service, or to schedule a free, 10-minute consultation, feel free to contact us today.