Having lived in Florida for the past twenty years, I have experienced my share of hurricanes.
The last memorable one, before Hurricane Irma this past month, was Hurricane Wilma in 2005. I remember that Hurricane Wilma caused great devastation and thousands of people lost power and their homes. At that time, people were talking about Hurricane Andrew of 1992 and how it changed people’s perception of hurricanes.
The devastation was proof that hurricanes cannot be taken lightly.
The experience of facing hurricane Wilma in 2005 made me want to help others. The opportunity presented itself at the end of 2005 when I accepted a position with FEMA and the Department of Children and Family Services for a special project titled “Project Hope.” I was the Team Leader for my group of crisis counselors and outreach workers. We provided referrals and counseling to communities and to people whose homes were damaged; we marked those houses with blue tarped roofs. I learned first-hand how to be prepared for hurricanes, how to deal with the aftermath, and how to find the assistance. I also purchased necessary equipment: a gas stove, battery operated emergency radio, and a fan. I am so glad that I always keep my emergency hurricane kit with me and it definitely came in handy during this last hurricane.
After 2005 we were fortunate we didn’t experience more devastation until this past September.
The weather forecast was that Hurricane Irma could develop into Category 5 Hurricane, with destructive winds of 180 mph. Just before, Hurricane Harvey devastated Texas with flooding that was unheard of. South Florida was fortunate that hurricane Irma’s strong winds dropped down significantly before making landfall in the Keys. I have to admit I was worried, even though we were prepared. With my fiancé’s brother’s help, we were able to board up our apartment (no landlord has ever provided hurricane shutters, which to me is unreasonable, to say the least). Our apartment was in East Delray, and we just started packing to move to a new place. We were fortunate that we only lost power for a couple of days. Our neighbors and many others were not so lucky as they had to wait over 10 days to get their power back. However, all this is nothing in comparison to what the islands experienced, especially Puerto Rico, that got slammed with another hurricane.
In all of this, there were some lessons.
Most of all, and I am sure many felt the same, I was just glad that it was not worse. In situations like these, it makes you wonder what is truly important in life, definitely not material possessions. People’s lives are the ones that matter. Many people who usually don’t experience anxiety did so whenever the electricity went off. Post-traumatic stress disorder is quite a common experience that can take years to heal. That’s why it’s so important to seek help. Otherwise, one can be paralyzed, as the triggers of the event and nightmares are a frequent occurrence.
Here are 5 tips to help minimize the symptoms of severe anxiety and PTSD caused by hurricanes:
- Seek professional help especially if you are experiencing lack of sleep, changes in appetite, panic attacks, or are unable to function.
- Learn stress management techniques such as breathing, guided meditation, or EFT tapping (Emotional Freedom Technique).
- Exercise 30 minutes a day, at least three times a week.
- Eat healthy and nutritious meals with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.
- Practice gratitude and remember, material things are replaceable.
As for me, it re-affirmed my vision to spend at least the summertime in the mountains and become a snowbird. I am taking it one-step at a time.
In the meantime, I will continue helping my clients deal with the aftermath of hurricanes.
I believe that we all need to master stress management skills. While we have no control over the environment, we can learn how to control and guide our thoughts.
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