Licensed Psychologist

Natural Disasters

Hurricane Dorian pounded the Bahamas and is anticipated to move up the east coast of the U.S. Some of you may be directly affected. Others may be reminded of past traumatic experience in natural disasters. Feelings of fear and powerlessness or overwhelming worry of being trapped may well be elicited.Even though you may not personally experience physical injury, it is not uncommon to have strong emotional reactions. Understanding your responses to these disturbing events can help you cope with your feelings, and thoughts and help you along the path to recovery. The American Psychological Association has described common reactions and responses to disaster. Initially people may feel stunned and disoriented. Once these initial reactions subside, it is common to feel anxious and overwhelmed or more moody than usual. You may experience vivid, repeated memories of the event. They can occur for no apparent reason and may lead to physiological reactions such as rapid heartbeat or sweating. You may have difficulty concentrating or making decisions. You may find yourself more irritable or become more withdrawn than usual. Your sleep and eating patterns may also be disrupted or you may find yourself oversensitive to loud sounds smells or other environmental sensations which may serve as triggers. Fortunately, research shows that most people are resilient over time. Talking with friends and family about the event can reduce stress and help you feel less alone. Do not repeatedly watch or read news about the event. Get plenty of rest and exercise and eat properly. Make time for activities that you enjoy: read a good book, take a walk, or go to the movies. Do something positive. Helping others can give you a sense of purpose in a situation that feels out of control. Do not turn to drugs or alcohol. In the long run, they only create additional problems. If your feelings do not go away or continue to interfere with your daily functioning, join a support group or seek help from a licensed mental health professional. Asking for help is a sign of strength not weakness.

Resources:

  • Mental Health America, 2019, Kevin Rowell, PhD, and Rebecca Thomley, PsyD
  • Bonanno, G. A., Galea, S., Bucciarelli, A., & Vlahov, D. (2007). What predicts psychological resilience after disaster? The role of demographics, resources, and life stress. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 75 (5), 671. doi: 10.1037/0022-006X.75.5.671
  • Bonanno, G. A., Papa, A., & O'Neill, K. (2001). Loss and human resilience. Applied and Preventive Psychology, 10(3), 193-206. doi: 10.1016/S0962-1849(01)80014-7
  • Butler, L. D., Koopman, C., Azarow, J., Blasey, C. M., Magdalene, J. C., DiMiceli, S., ... & Spiegel, D. (2009). Psychosocial predictors of resilience after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 197 (4), 266-273. doi: 10.1097/NMD.0b013e31819d9334
  • Silver, R. C., Holman, E. A., McIntosh, D. N., Poulin, M., & Gil-Rivas, V. (2002). Nationwide longitudinal study of psychological responses to September 11. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 288 (10), 1235-1244. doi: 10.1001/jama.288.10.1235
  • Bonanno, G. A., Galea, S., Bucciarelli, A., & Vlahov, D. (2007). What predicts psychological resilience after disaster? The role of demographics, resources, and life stress. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 75 (5), 671. doi: 10.1037/0022-006X.75.5.671
  • Bonanno, G. A., Papa, A., & O'Neill, K. (2001). Loss and human resilience. Applied and Preventive Psychology, 10(3), 193-206. doi: 10.1016/S0962-1849(01)80014-7
  • Butler, L. D., Koopman, C., Azarow, J., Blasey, C. M., Magdalene, J. C., DiMiceli, S., ... & Spiegel, D. (2009). Psychosocial predictors of resilience after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 197 (4), 266-273. doi: 10.1097/NMD.0b013e31819d9334
  • Silver, R. C., Holman, E. A., McIntosh, D. N., Poulin, M., & Gil-Rivas, V. (2002). Nationwide longitudinal study of psychological responses to September 11. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 288 (10), 1235-1244. doi: 10.1001/jama.288.10.1235
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