by Tim Smith
Hurricanes can create all kinds of stress for people of all ages.
Preparing for the unpredictable can leave us feeling fearful or confused with disrupted appetites and sleep patterns, while anxiety can also lead to nervous stomach aches or headaches. It’s a time to think about each other, provide a listening ear and a shoulder to lean on, says Dr. Sandy De Silva.
As the executive director of Family Centre, which offers critical intervention services to children suffering from emotional, social, behavioural and trauma-based challenges, Dr. De Silva notes that forecasts for major storms can last for days as weather systems take shape and travel towards Bermuda. “This can leave an affected community feeling quite stressed for a prolonged period of time as they listen and watch for the latest headlines on the storm’s path and whether there will be a direct hit or not.”
In particular, persons vulnerable to distress, such as children, older adults or anyone dependent on someone else for their daily care and safety, may feel significantly anxious, she says. “This anxiety and unease may be expressed through thoughts of fear and confusion, through behaviours such as changes in appetite and sleep patterns, and even demonstrations of physical symptoms, such as stomach aches and headaches.”
Dr. De Silva notes that those people who work during a storm—such as weather and news reporters, emergency first responders and recovery workers—may experience prolonged separation from loved ones depending on the severity of the storm. They may also show signs of mental and physical fatigue.
“People can experience a wide range of emotions before, during and after a natural disaster,” she explains. “There is no right or wrong way to feel. Leading up to the storm, during the storm, and post the storm, adults are typically kept busy with the lengthy lists of what to do, which can be overwhelming and leave our most vulnerable full of helpless emotions.”
This makes it even more important to connect with vulnerable people in your family, circle of friends, at work and in the neighbourhood. In addition to needing someone to talk to and lean on, they might also need practical assistance to ensure their emotional and physical safety. You can support people by offering a helping hand to collect a prescription for an elderly person or offering words of comfort to a young child so they know they will be kept safe while the storm passes.
Dr. De Silva makes the following suggestions for healthy ways to cope with challenging events:
Relieve stress by playing games together, reading a good book, deep breathing, stretching and other simple exercises.
Limit news consumption by the most vulnerable who will only become more distressed when hearing too many details for too long. “The constant replay of news stories about terrible events can increase stress and anxiety.”
Try to maintain your normal routines leading up to, throughout and after the storm is over. Dr. De Silva says: “This includes eating and going to bed at the same times you normally would. This helps to maintain your physical state.”
Prepare those around you for the fact that natural disasters can disrupt normal life for a few days, such as loss of electricity for an unknown period of time or not being able to return to school or work for a few days. This helps to set normal expectations in challenging times.
“It takes a village to recover from a natural disaster, so let’s take care of ourselves and each other to ensure that we all come out of storms as safely as possible,” says Dr. De Silva.
Seniors, of course, can be particularly vulnerable during a major storm, especially if they live on their own. Callan Bassett, the business development manager at Age Concern, calls on the community to ensure the elderly have the support they need to prepare for a storm, cope while the storm is here, and then deal with the aftermath.
“Following a hurricane, many seniors are often unable to advocate for their own interests because of physical impairments, cognitive limitations or a combination of the two,” Bassett says. “However, it is not a given that seniors can easily receive the support of a competent adult. Many seniors are perfectly capable of caring for themselves under normal circumstances, but, when disaster strikes, some find themselves cut off from their usual support systems, placing them at higher risk.”
He says it’s important for Bermudians as a community to remain focused on ensuring that our senior family members, friends, neighbours and loved ones have the resources and support they need to make it through our hurricane seasons safely.
Bassett says you can help seniors by:
- Making sure they have their hurricane supplies ready, including an extra supply of all medications.
- Ensuring that their windows and doors are secured where necessary.
- Confirming that they have a way to contact you in case of an emergency.
Sometimes our desire to help vulnerable loved ones can mean we want to take risks after the storm has finished. Steve Cosham, Bermuda’s national disaster coordinator, notes that charities and church groups play an increasingly important role in looking after the vulnerable.
“It’s getting as many groups involved as possible,” he says. “Everybody understands how they can come together to help people who need it.”
Cosham acknowledges that people want to get out and check on their families, friends and fellow community members after a storm. But he advises striking the balance of supporting your loved ones without making life more difficult for the hurricane response teams to do their jobs. “We realize people want to check on their house and gardens. We want people to check on their neighbours,” he says.
“If your mom lives around the corner, you are going to check on her. If she lives 10 miles away, you are going to drive across three parishes to see her. But we want it to be at a minimum,” he says. “Bear in mind the response teams need to clear the main roads so that emergency vehicles can get to emergencies.”