by Dr. Katie Godshall, LCSW-BACS; Teen Life Counts Program Coordinator
Over the past week, Louisiana geared up for what was forecasted to be a record “rain-event”. Thankfully the impact was minimal in most parts, but the significant effect remains as an invisible weight on the shoulders of many who have experienced damaging hurricanes, storms, or even continuous rain-events of the past.
In New Orleans, it’s no secret that we see our fair share of storms. These rain-events often deliver a deluge of anxiety and fear that can be traced back to previous experiences. This experience is referred to as a “trigger”—something that elicits emotional and physiological responses similar to those experienced during a past trauma.
We can also experience a specific type of trigger called an anniversary trigger. An anniversary trigger is typically based on the calendar and can be exasperated by similar circumstances linking back to the initial trauma or loss. For example, I worked with a client who would often experience an increase in sadness and isolation during the month of May. We were able to link this back to the loss of the client’s mother during this month.
Cities can also have a collective anniversary trigger. For New Orleans, August 29th will remain on the city’s mind as the day Hurricane Katrina made landfall.
We all experience trauma and anxiety differently. For some, it means closely monitoring every system in the Gulf year-round, evacuating voluntarily for all storms, or experiencing anxiety when flash floods occur. These are all normal reactions and sometimes our responses help soothe that fear and anxiety. To help combat these anxieties, here are a few ways to reduce your reaction:
- Eat well balanced and regular meals (even if you don’t feel up to it)
- Get plenty of rest
- Engage in physical exercise
- Accept thoughts and feelings you are having without judgment
- Maintain daily routines or begin structuring your time
- Focus on your breathing (try using an exercise or meditation app on your phone)
- Do not overindulge in alcohol, sweets, etc. (everything in moderation!)
- Spend time with others or engage in positive activities
- Accept that you are under stress and experiencing normal reactions
- Use humor
- Engage in relaxing activities
Anxiety is a natural part of being human, it can be a useful tool that keeps us safe or it can be debilitating at times. When you are able to recognize your anxiety you have the opportunity to focus the energy into a productive tool. So if monitoring disturbances in the Gulf helps soothe your anxiety, it is a productive tool. It can help keep you informed and gives you the ability to plan. If planning to evacuate for every storm soothes your anxiety, that’s productive too. Doing whatever helps you feel in control of the situation will inevitably aid in the reduction of anxiety. It is important to acknowledge your anxieties and to reduce them—particularly if you feel frozen in place. Anxiety can be as productive as you let it be. Remember to check in with yourself and use the resources that are available to you.
If you would like to learn more about storm preparedness and response, I recommend viewing the following resources: