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Coping with hurricane PTSD

Coping with hurricane PTSD

If you feel extra stressed before, during, or after hurricane season, you aren’t alone

There’s no way around it: storms cause stress.

In Louisiana, we’re no strangers to hurricanes and severe weather events. But that doesn’t make them any less upsetting, scary, and stressful. In fact, living through an extreme storm firsthand can cause depression, anxiety, fear, and worry about future events. This type of reaction is known as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

For those who recall Katrina and other hurricanes, storm season can trigger PTSD

Natural disasters can be a form of trauma, especially for those who may have lost their home, business, community, loved ones, and/or sense of safety. Even those who aren’t directly impacted can develop increased fear, nervousness, and depression from watching news coverage and weather updates.

For some people, frightening memories or flashbacks of a terrible event can continue to return months or even years after it occurs. When hurricane season comes around again each year, it can trigger anxiety and other warning signs of PTSD.

Know the warning signs

New storm forecasts in the news can trigger scary and painful memories of past hurricanes, causing increased stress for those who have lived through natural disasters in the past. During this time of year, it’s important to watch out for warning signs and symptoms in yourself and others.

Common signs of PTSD include:

  • Distressing memories and a feeling of reliving the traumatic event (flashbacks)
  • Bad dreams and nightmares about the event
  • Severe emotional distress and/or physical reactions to things that trigger your memory of the event
  • Uncontrollable physical reactions when thinking about the event, including heart racing, trouble breathing, and sweating
  • Being fearful or easily frightened
  • Relying on self-destructive behavior like drinking or using drugs
  • Insomnia and trouble sleeping
  • Depression, anxiety, and negative thoughts
  • Memory problems and forgetfulness (sometimes related to the event)
  • Lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Feeling isolated or detached from loved ones
  • A feeling of numbness, and difficulty feeling positive emotions

These signs and more can indicate that someone may be suffering from PTSD. If you experience any of these symptoms for more than a month, or if they are severe, it’s important to reach out to your doctor ASAP.

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Support is available 24/7

Did you know that the Disaster Distress Helpline (1-800-985-5990) is available for 24/7, 365-day-a-year counseling and support?

Offered by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), this helpline is available to provide counseling, coping tips, and referrals to local crisis centers for individuals experiencing emotional distress related to natural disasters like hurricanes, wildfires, and even the COVID-19 pandemic.

The helpline is a free, multilingual, and confidential service. If you need support, call or text the number above to connect with a trained crisis counselor.

7 strategies for coping with hurricane PTSD

While the most effective treatment for PTSD is professional counseling and support, these resources can help you reduce anxiety and care for your emotional health, whether you struggle from severe symptoms or not:

  1. Get prepared

For some people, planning and preparing for future storms can help ease anxiety and stress going into hurricane season. You may want to outline an emergency plan and put together a hurricane kit or “go bag” just in case. Other ways to prepare include practicing evacuation routes, making sure to refill prescriptions early, and ensuring your home is ready to weather storms.

  1. Try deep breathing exercises

While it may sound simple, science shows that there are therapeutic benefits to deep, intentional breathing. Without even realizing it, many of us take short, shallow breaths that increase anxiety and stress. To counteract this habit, take a moment to pay attention to how you are breathing.

First, find a comfortable position. Place one hand on your stomach, and the other on your chest. Begin taking deep breaths. When you inhale, you should feel your belly (not just your chest!) expand. As you exhale, your belly should fall.

When you feel anxious or upset, a few minutes of this type of deep breathing can help you relax.

  1. Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness can be a helpful way to treat anxiety and depression. By rooting ourselves in the present moment, focusing our awareness, and practicing non-reactivity, we can find more calm and peace of mind.

A mindfulness practice can include meditation, deep breathing, body scanning, and more. There are many mindfulness apps available to help you get started, including Headspace, Calm, and Shine. Try a few out to see what works for you.

  1. Try journaling

While it may seem counterintuitive, journaling about and paying attention to our anxious thoughts can actually be healing.

For PTSD specifically, a type of journaling known as expressive writing has been found to have many benefits, including reduced anxiety and increased ability to cope and grow.

To start, find a quiet place where you can write. Take a few moments to reflect on how your PTSD event has impacted your life, and then simply start writing. Try to write continuously for at least 20 minutes. Afterwards, re-read what you wrote and notice how you feel. Treat yourself with patience, compassion, and understanding during this process.

  1. Distract yourself

A little healthy distraction can help us get out of the negative-thought cycles caused by PTSD. You can try exercising, taking a walk, arts and crafts, doing yoga, calling a friend or family member, cooking your favorite food, listening to calming music, or curling up on the couch to watch your comfort show on TV. Don’t watch the news or “doom scroll”!

  1. Reach out to friends and family

Even though it can be difficult to ask for help, it’s important to let people in when we’re feeling depressed and anxious. Social support can be extremely helpful for those struggling with symptoms of PTSD.

If you need it, don’t hesitate to reach out to a friend, family member, or someone you trust to talk about your fears and feelings. You may be surprised by how many feelings and experiences you share.

  1. Don’t hesitate to seek professional support

While friends and family members can provide a shoulder to lean on, sometimes PTSD requires professional support and attention. Talk therapy, counseling, and doctor-prescribed medication are the most effective forms of treatment for PTSD.