Writings from Christine

How to Reduce Pre-Hurricane Stress (PHS)

by on September 6, 2019

As Hurricane Dorian heads for the Florida shore with an anticipated category 4 center winds of 130-156 miles per hour, anxiety builds in residents. Forecasting the track of the storm is unfortunately not an exact science which only adds to the increased pressure in the air. The whole state is on alert, waiting to see where and when the storm will hit.

The topic of conversation at check-out aisles in overly crowded grocery stores is which storm have you lived through. Those who have survived many previous storms have already completed their shopping and are fully stocked with supplies. While others who discount or minimize the storm mockingly comment on the over-response of others.

There is a great divide between survivors of previous storms (those who have lived through a storm) and observers of storms (those who have not).

Survivors know of the unpredictability of storms. The best forecasting still falls short of accuracy when unsuspecting turns, variable winds and changes in pressure determine the fate of cities, forever impacting lives. Each storm is as unique with some having stronger winds than others, less rainfall than others, and more/fewer spin-off tornadoes.

Observers use this unpredictability as evidence for not correctly preparing, preferring instead to “roll the dice.” Unfortunately, some of these observers use previous storm damage as determining factors for how to or not to prepare, failing to understand that each storm is different. The divide between survivors and observers only adds to the mounting tension.

Then just before the arrival of the hurricane, the skies clear, the humidity dries up, and the wind stands eerily still as the hurricane pulls all moisture from surrounding areas to add to its intensity. This calm before the storm adds even more stress for survivors as their anxiety and fear builds just before the hurricane makes landfall.

Last-minute decisions to leave clog highways and drain gas stations as even more stories are recounted, more preparations are undertaken, and more storm-tracking is followed. This pre-hurricane stress (PHS) infects everyone as road tensions mount and desperate searches for generators/batteries/water intensify.

Here are five other symptoms residents experience.

  1. Increased anxiety. Several days out, the anxiety was lukewarm, but as the storm draws closer and the news of its damage to surrounding areas is revealed, anxiety turns into a boil. While the predictions of potential damage have been consistent all along, the anxious response by others fuels some people into a type of unprecedented panic. The key to countering the anxiety is to distract oneself with some normal activity and conversation that does not involve the storm. Meditation is also a good practice at this time to reduce intense emotions. During times like this, there are things inside a person’s control (planning for the storm) and things outside of a person’s control (direction of the storm). Focus on what is within reach and release what is not.
  2. Group anxiety. Watching others become panicky about the storm frequently causes those who were not anxious to become anxious. There develops a type of group anxiety that can feed irrational thoughts and behaviors. Watching too much news or too many updates on the storm contributes to this group anxiety. To avoid this, select times to review the storm, limit the amount of news watching, and avoid anxious places or people who are solely focused on the storm. Do normal activities in addition to preparation.
  3. Fearful premature reactions. The premature firing of survival instincts before a storm hitting can deplete much-needed survival responses after the storm. Take a cue from nature, just before a massive storm, everything is calm. There is no wind, no rain, and no chirping birds. All of nature seems to take a deep breath in anticipation of the hurricane. Use this time to turn off the TV and meditate, pray, or take several deep breaths. This will calm the fearful premature reactions that are best reserved for after the storm. Remember, once survival mode is activated, it takes 36-72 hours for it to reset. Compounding activations decrease a person’s ability to think clearly and make good decisions.
  4. Obsessive thinking. In some regards, it is necessary to think about the possible outcomes to minimize damage. However, obsessively thinking about the worst possible scenarios can drive a person into a frenzy. This is very dangerous, as rational thinking is replaced with irrational fears. At a time when careful planning can make the difference between life and death, irrational or obsessive thinking must be eradicated. Ask: “Is this realistic? Has this happened here before?” For instance, those on the coast must prepare for storm surges as this is a real possibility. While those inland do not need to worry about the impact of high waves but might need to prepare for flooding.
  5. Heightened tensions. As if the pending storm is not enough, some turn their anxiety into anger. This is frequently seen on the roadways as distracted, frustrated people try to complete last-minute errands. The sense of hurry drives some to push others out of their way to accomplish their fear-based objective. This blatant disregard for others in the interest of self-preservation increases car accidents, verbal lashings, and aggressive behavior. Walking from a car into the grocery store, a person could be run over by drivers so focused on their task that they forgot to watch for pedestrians. Be intentional about slowing down so more focused thought and less angry responses can be achieved.

Proper preparation means walking the perimeter of your house looking for any loose articles that could transform into dangerous projectiles, and if necessary, boarding windows and doors.

With the outside all taken care of, now the work on the inside begins as laundry, dishes, and cooking (all which require electricity) begin knowing the likelihood of no power in a short time.

Being safe during the storm is as important as reducing the PHS and anxiety prior to the storm.

Posted under: Stress Management Writings from Christine

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