Hurricane Harvey brought catastrophic weather and flooding to Gulf Coast Texas. As a Texan who grew up in Victoria, Texas it was difficult to hear that the eye of the storm was heading to my hometown. I was overcome with worry about my parents who decided to stay behind. Saturday morning brought the news that my parents weathered the storm safely, but it was devastating to see the images of the damage and their recount of the ferocity of the storm.
The relief was temporary; Saturday and Sunday brought the vigilant watch of the news and social media to monitor the Houston weather and to assess our safety and well being of our friends and family here in Houston. A careful eye was kept on the flooding on our street due to the rising level of the creek near our home.
Tuesday brought the relief that the worst was behind us in our neighborhood, but woke to the news that Kingwood residents were being evacuated. The Kingwood/Humble area was also once called home and where I opened my first office. Worry returned as I heard of friends being evacuated and overall concern for the community.
This is my story of the Harvey experience. The first step from healing from the trauma of a storm is telling your story. We all experienced Harvey in our own unique way. Some experienced it much like myself through images on TV, social media, and hearing reports from family and friends. Others experienced the tragedy first hand by being evacuated, watching their homes flood, and/or helping or saving a neighbor.
However you experienced Harvey, the threat to your safety was real and with that it produces feelings of anxiety, sadness, and grief.
It is normal to develop physical and emotional reactions after a natural disaster. Common reactions are anxiety, sleep problems, hyper startle response, concentration problems, intrusive imaging (memories, flashbacks and dreams), changes in mood, and worry when separated from loved ones.
These reactions are usually temporary and remember that your mind and body need time to recover.
There is no set amount of recovery time from a traumatic event. Individuals recover at their own pace. If you feel that your reaction is greatly impacting your daily functioning then you might want to consider seeking the help of a counselor.
To help with the recovery process:
Tell your story – This is an important part of recovery. You benefit from sharing your story and allowing others to share theirs. Allow children to tell their story in a way that is developmentally appropriate to them. Art is a great way of self-expression for any age.
Practice self-care – Try to get quality sleep, eat healthy, exercise and do activities that lower stress (reading a book, listening to music, watching a movie, etc).
Regulate the use of media – Protect yourself from re-traumatizing you and other family members by limiting the use of media/social media as a source of gathering information. Remember with small children and the elderly who don’t have a firm grasp of time and may fear that the images are occurring in the present.
Spend time with family and friends – Its healing to feel the love and support of others.
Positive thoughts – With the amount of loss and grief it might be difficult to “count your blessings” but it is helpful to list the small and big things you for which you are grateful. For example, seeing the sunshine after the storm.
Volunteer- The feeling that you are doing something to help can be healing to yourself and others. It can be volunteering at a shelter or helping a neighbor with transportation. There are all acts of kindness that will be needed for several months to come.
And most importantly remember your strength and the strength around you.
Research by Bonanno & colleagues (2011) suggests that the most effective way to recover from traumatic events is to have a flexible perspective. This means the entitlement to move between remembering and mourning the event with a “ Trauma Focus” and the ability to look away from the event to your present life or plans for the future -” Forward Focus.”
In order to move forward we will have the courage to face how Harvey affected our lives and will have the strength to find a future beyond this traumatic event.
Thus, the phrases you’ve been seeing “Texas Strong” and “Houston Strong”. You and our Texas gulf coast community will have the strength to recover.