When Disaster Strikes: Hurricanes, Trauma and Insomnia

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Trauma and Insomnia

As Hurricane Harvey was off the Texas coast there were many Texans who were not able to sleep in anticipation of where landfall might occur. Yet now in the aftermath of the devastation in Houston, the trauma that has been created in many Texans lives has left them sleepless. I have spoken to some of our clients in Texas who have told me that where they live their homes are under water. They are experiencing hopelessness and lack of sleep.Without homes, many Texans find themselves living in shelters and some may not be able to return home. This creates the inability to sleep in an unfamiliar surrounding. In the aftermath of all the flooding from a deluge of record rainfall, it is no wonder that people are feeling this way. Their lives have been flipped upside down.Yet even now there is the threat of Hurricane Irma, churning in the Atlantic of becoming a category 5 hurricane. Some of these models show it striking south Florida.  Reminiscent of Hurricane Andrew that devasted Homestead Florida in 1992.  I was in Florida when it hit and whole neighborhoods were wiped off the map.

Hurricane Season

How do we manage to survive when we are threatened with such disaster? According to GWO- Global Weather Oscillations Incorporated (GWO)  a company that specializes in predicting typhoon, hurricane, and storm occurrences in 11 US zones and select areas across the globe.  There are a few things we need to know.The hurricane season is well underway, you need to prepare your family, home, and properties from possible damage or loss. This is important because:
  • According to the American Psychological Association, the trauma after experiencing a natural disaster include nausea, headaches, strained relationships, chest pains, insomnia, fear, emotional distress, and disrupted sleeping and eating patterns.
  • According to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), those most affected by the aftermath of a hurricane are children and seniors who fear another hurricane and also those who have an emotional imbalance.
  • Science Daily recently reported that there are still many people who continue to suffer because of their personal experience with Hurricane Katrina.  It’s been six years since that terrible tragedy and the number of heart attacks in New Orleans is still three times higher than before the storm.
Natural disasters like hurricanes other and traumatic ‘natural’ events are extremely challenging for the people directly affected. The stress caused following a natural disaster can lead to ‘burnout’ and physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. Some people will be able to manage the stress but for others, it may be difficult to cope. Most people eventually heal and recover and go on to rebuild their lives.

Heal and Rebuild

Recovery takes time. It is important to allow yourself time to process your circumstances and regain a sense of normalcy. There are things you can do to heal and rebuild.
  1. Recognise when it’s getting too much – watch out for signs of stress and get extra support when things become overwhelming. Allow yourself extra time to get things done.
  2. Talk – release your emotions and tension by talking to someone you trust. This can help put things into perspective. It’s likely others in your community are experiencing similar feelings so this gives everyone an opportunity to release negative feelings and discuss practical ways to deal with the situation.
  3. Develop an action plan – decide who’s going to do what and when. Summarise your financial situation and discuss your options with your bank to alleviate stress of any financial concerns. Having a plan will help you feel you are making progress.
  4. Take care of yourself – eat well, exercise and sleep. Try to get back to your normal routine when you feel ready. Wherever possible, schedule extra time for things you enjoy or that you find relaxing.
  5. Get help – lean on family and friends. Strong support networks can provide emotional or practical support. Explain your needs and tell them exactly how they can help. Make a list of places to go to for help e.g. financial assistance, emotional support, your GP a helpline Like Lifeline.
  6. Consider professional help – If you don’t feel some return to normal after four weeks, seek professional help (earlier if needed).
Keep reminding yourself that your responses are normal responses to a stressful situation. Give yourself permission to do whatever you need to do to take care of yourself. Your body and mind will tell you what you need to do—your job is to listen to them.Get plenty of rest when you’re tired, and use the energy you have if you experience hyperactivity at times. Don’t force yourself to be active if you don’t have the energy, or rest when you feel tired.At 2breathe our thoughts and prayers go out to those whose lives have been upended by Hurricane Harvey. Thank you to all the volunteers who are helping people try to recover. Remember if you are involved in these operations, you need to sleep too.Click here for more information regarding this article 
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