Writings from Christine

What is Pre-Hurricane Stress?

by on September 8, 2017

As Hurricane Irma, with shifting center winds of 150 – 185 miles per hour, heads for Florida, anxiety in residents builds with every shifting forecast. The topic of conversation at check-out isles in grocery stores is which storm have you lived through. Those who have survived the many storms have already completed their shopping several days ahead of the arrival. 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 and observers of storms. Survivors know of the unpredictability of storms. The best forecasting still falls short of accuracy when unsuspecting turns and either increasing or decreasing winds determines the fate of cities forever impacting lives. Observers use the unpredictability as their evidence for not properly preparing preferring instead to “roll the dice”. Some observers inaccurately use previous storms as determining factors for how to prepare, failing to understand that each storm is as unique as an individual.

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 to the tension for survivors as their anxiety and fear begins to build just before landfall. Last minute decisions to leave clog highways and drain gas stations as even more stories are recounted, more preparations are done, and more storm tracking is followed. This pre-hurricane stress infects everyone as road tensions mount and desperate searches for generators/batteries/water intensify. Here are some of the other symptoms.

  • Increased anxiety. Several days out the anxiety was like lukewarm water, but as the storm draws closer and the news of its damage to surrounding areas is revealed, anxiety turns into a boil. In reality, the predictions of potential damage have been consistent all along, however the anxious response by others fuels some into a panic. The key to countering the anxiety is to distract with some normal activity and conversation that does not involve the storm.
  • Group anxiety. Watching others become panicky about the storm frequently causes those who were not previously anxious to become anxious. It becomes 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. Instead, select times to review the storm, limit the amount of news watching, and avoid anxious places or people.
  • Fearful premature reactions. The premature firing of survival instincts prior to a storm hitting can deplete the much needed survival response after the storm. Take a clue 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.
  • Obsessive thinking. In some regards it is necessary to think about all of the possible outcomes in order to minimize the 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 literally 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 of Florida 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.
  • 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 the last minute errands. The sense of hurry drives some to literally push others out of their way in an effort to accomplish their objective. This disregard for others in interest of self-preservation increases car accidents, verbal lashings, and aggressive behavior. Walking from my car into the grocery store, I was almost run over by two separate drivers who were 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.

I walked the perimeter of my house this morning looking for any loose articles that could transform into dangerous projectile objects. This is my fifth hurricane in Florida, and not likely to be my last. 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. My family is safe and at the moment stress free which is my prayer for other families across Florida.

Posted under: Stress Management Trauma Writings from Christine

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