The shifting projections for Hurricane Irma have caused resulted in the largest evacuation for the State of Florida. Those of us who choose to stay behind watch each update with anxious anticipation wondering which forecast will be correct. Having survived other storms in the past, I have come to appreciate the difficulty in accurate predictions.
As the storm approaches, the roadways are bare, the shops are closed, and many homes are boarded up wondering when the electricity and internet will stop working. The hurricane causes families and neighbors to unite and hunker down expecting the worst but hoping for the best. But the topic of choice remains the latest updates on the storm and the damage that has already occurred.
This creates an atmosphere of severe anxiety as tensions mount and miscommunication increases. Here are a couple of ideas to calm the inner storm so the focus can remain on the outer:
- Be aware. Anxiety can manifest in different ways. There are physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, sweaty palms, tightness in the chest, and a knot in the stomach. And there are mental symptoms such as foggy thinking, confusion, obsessive thinking and racing thoughts. Become aware of the early signs of anxiety before it reaches a full blown attack.
- Welcome the feeling. Instead of becoming anxious about being anxious which only increases the tension, see the anxiety as a normal part of pre-hurricane stress. The uneasiness is there to warn a person of a potential danger which is very real in light of the hurricane. This is a perfectly normal time to feel anxious, embrace the anxiety instead of fighting it.
- Become present. One of the tools of mindfulness is learning how to become present in a given moment. Focus on breathing deeply, filling the lungs up with air, and releasing every drop of breath. Allow the breath to travel throughout the body finding areas of tension. Focus on releasing that stress with each breath. Most likely this will need to be done with every hurricane update and news story.
- Good self-talk. As the breathing slows the heart rate, channel thoughts to sayings like, “This moment will pass,” “I can handle this,” and “I’ll figure it out after the storm.” Taking a break from any analysis frees up the mind to focus on reducing the anxiousness. Distraction is another effective method as is taking a few moments alone periodically to rest. Think of a calming place and imagine being there.
- Return to moment. As soon as the anxiousness passes, quickly return back to the moment and become aware of the surroundings. Reengage in activities or conversation so the disruption is minimized for now. Most likely others won’t even notice the anxious moment which is good when there are children or elderly in the house that might already be feeling overwhelmed by the storm.
It is impossible to eliminate anxious responses about the hurricane; the danger is real as the storm is large and powerful. But what is possible is to learn to embrace the anxiety and not escalate the already aggravated tensions. This will benefit everyone while they wait out the storm.