Storms & Anxiety

By: Brian M. Murray, IMH

Anxiety is a very common part of everyday life. This time of year in Florida approaching hurricanes can cause a lot of anxiety. It would appear that some people handle it in different ways by celebrating all the way down to being down right scared and hunkered down. So what is this all about? How come some people are very afraid and others are not?

Some underlying factors are at play and very legitimate. If a person has ever been exposed to a natural disaster and witnessed or experienced what is perceived as a life threatening situation, then they have good reason to feel anxiety during an approaching storm. These survivors can be experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder commonly known as PTSD. Now, some anxiety before a storm is a pretty typical response. However, if the anxiety reaches a point where a person begins to recall memories of past traumatic events into the present one then it can warrant taking a better look at what is going on.

There are some signs of what to look for such as those involving intrusive memories. This is identified by bad dreams of the event, sudden thoughts and images of the witnessed event known as flashbacks, feeling on edge and on high alert constantly checking and rechecking supplies, locked doors and constantly watching every update on a storm. PTSD is commonly heard of when thinking of war veterans, emergency workers, survivors of terrifying car accidents, plane crashes, fires and those who have survived a natural disaster. Anytime a person believes their life is being threatened in a dangerous situation is being exposed to traumatic stress.

What happens with trauma is current anxiety being experienced is a response based on past events. With trauma, the brain records the past event and stores it into memory at the moment the trauma occurred. So when a current situation arises that is similar, such as an approaching hurricane with a natural disaster victim, this memory is recalled and produces feelings much like they were at the moment they were originally recorded. It is the minds way of preparing the body for the perceived threat, based on the condition of the last known event.

Here are some ways that may be helpful in preparation. Before this gets too far just a word of caution, in no way is a hurricane to be taken lightly. This is not about making light of something serious; this is about managing feelings of anxiety. Compare the imminent danger to the last known threat. How is it the same and how is it different? Am I blowing things out of proportion or jumping to conclusions? Utilize self reassurance phrases, for example, by repeating “I am okay.” Develop realistic positive talk; “I have been through this before, I can do it again.” Try to be as realistic as possible and replace negative thoughts with positive ones. Instead of thinking all doom and gloom, think of what needs to get done in order to be ready. If you have family and children, turn it into a game with each person preparing The Fort. This helps change the focus of thoughts from excessive worry to being pro-active. Prepare for the event so last minute stress and pressure of having to prepare have been taken out of the equation well in advance. Like the old Boy Scout motto, “Be Prepared” can go a long way in relieving anxiety. Try breathing techniques to calm and slow the body by breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth. Get a support group and work together with a plan of action to be at one person’s home should a storm have a direct impact. Much of this has to do with switching the focus of the thought of the perceived danger to thoughts of doing something active.

While some of these techniques can be effective to relieve anxiety in the moment, they may not be efficient to someone who has been deeply impacted by a past traumatic event. PTSD can be a serious and long term condition that requires therapeutic intervention. Trauma focused therapy can be effective in helping work through and re-record the trauma events to lessen the future effects.


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