Overcoming pain and loss in the wake of natural disasters and Hurricane Harvey
Photograph by David J. Phillip / AP for The New Yorker (www.newyorker.com)
Hurricane Harvey arrived to Texas late August of 2017, making record rainfall and displacing several thousand residents out of their homes. Hurricane Irma ravaged the Caribbean Islands and Florida just a few weeks after Harvey. Disaster relief organizations, government/state agencies, law enforcement, and medical professionals worked around the clock to meet the needs of those impacted by the hurricanes. An estimated several billion dollars’ worth of damages was done to the United States from just the hurricanes mentioned above. Many of us can be impacted physically, socially, economically, and emotionally when it comes to natural disasters.
When such events happen in our lives, we may become overwhelmed on several levels. We ourselves or someone we know (i.e., family members, neighbors, friends, community, etc.) are or have been affected and multiple complex factors come into play.
Using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, our basic human needs must first be met before we can satisfy any other need. These basic needs include food, water, shelter, and security. Some things we can do to meet these needs could be stocking up on food and drinkable water in the event of emergencies. Escape plans, structural reinforcements, and having a list of emergency numbers may also be essential – there are a few resources listed at the end of this post for Texas.
Although this post is focused on hurricanes, please keep in mind different protective measures may be required for different types of crises. Take some time to create a plan and preventative measures for disasters/emergencies to help yourself and loved ones when needed. When we are able to ensure our basic survival, we are then able to help our loved ones and others meet theirs.
Emotions are incredibly complex and may become debilitating when we experience things such as natural disasters. Emotions may manifest in different people in different ways. One individual’s anxiety may cause sleeping difficulties while another’s anxiety may cause them to compulsively rearrange their house. Potential coping skills for anxiety can include meditation, speaking with someone, or utilizing other resources to meet their basic needs.
Some may also experience hopelessness or panic attacks in disaster situations. Deep breathing exercises and counting (i.e., number of ridges on a coin, tiles on the ceiling, etc.) have been shown to be effective ways to cope with panic. Exercise, journaling, positive self-talk, and volunteering may be ways to work through hopelessness. Awareness and understanding of our own emotional states in moments of crisis and understanding how to cope with them helps us stay centered. In turn, stabilized emotions may help us function more effectively and find practical means towards relief.
Hundreds of organizations banded together to assist in recovery efforts during Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Crises and emergency situations can be incredibly tough to experience, especially when we experience them alone. If we are able to, reaching out to disaster relief personnel, family members, friends, neighbors may help us feel validated and supported in difficult times.
Speaking with a counselor can help you sort through distressing emotions, find resources, and develop coping strategies for you to regain stability after a crisis. For Dallas residents, feel free to contact our office at (469) 665-9416 or visit www.headfirstdallas.com to schedule an appointment.
Whether or not you were influenced by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, you can make a difference by volunteering and/or donating to disaster relief organizations. Contact local shelters to see what you can do to help. Here are a few sites you can visit if you’re interested in hurricane relief efforts.
Disaster Distress Hotline: 1-800-985-5990
Community Resource Information: 211
Non-emergency number: 311
Emergency (police, fire, ambulance): 911
Office Of Emergency Management (Houston): 713-881-3100
National Guard (Houston): 713-884-4500
Coast Guard (Houston): 713-578-3000
American Red Cross: 954-797-3800
United Way Dallas: 214-978-0000
Albert Dieu, MS, LCDC-I is an adult therapist at HeadFirst Counseling located in Preston Center in Dallas, TX. Read more about Albert and his therapy work with adults here.