Expert Offers Tips for Calming Anxiety Related to Hurricanes

by VR Sreeraman on Sep 2 2008 2:55 PM

Though it has been three years since Hurricane Katrina made landfall, images from the storm’s aftermath can still be vividly recalled--rooftop rescues, broken homes, stranded victims. Mere mention of a tropical storm forming can cause great anxiety in many people living in the southeast region of the United States.

As tropical storms are upgraded to hurricane status, the tracking of the storms becomes a topic of daily conversation among those living anywhere near the projected path. Just as the winds build, so do the fears and apprehension.

“For some, the anxiety can be almost overwhelming,” said Joyce Davidson, MD, medical director of the Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Treatment Program at The Menninger Clinic. “But it’s important not to catastrophize the situation.”

Dr. Davidson offers the following tips on how to calm fears and keep anxiety low when faced with a potential hurricane:

1. Arm yourself with information. “Keep up-to-date on storm information. Knowing things like where the storm is predicted to hit, where the storm surge is expected, how far reaching the storm is, all of these things will help you determine whether you are in danger or not,” says Dr. Davidson.

2. Do not assume the worst. Think through what is most likely to happen. “For example, the storm probably will not hit your city or if it does, it will likely not be as bad as you think,” said Dr. Davidson.

3. Be prepared. “Feeling prepared helps reduce anxiety,” says Dr. Davidson. “Take the appropriate steps that you always hear about, like securing loose items outside, boarding windows, having enough food and water on hand, ensuring your pet’s safety and other important storm precautions.” (A complete list for storm preparedness can be found on the National Hurricane Center Web site at

4. Reassure your children. “Children feed off of their parents’ anxiety so it is important that you get it under control. Remind your children that you are the parent and as such you are taking every precaution necessary to ensure their safety,” said Dr. Davidson. “By exuding confidence, you can help calm your children’s fears.”

5. Base your decisions on your own circumstances. “It is important that we keep updated by watching or listening to the news. But keep in mind that the media is far reaching and may be basing reports and warnings on specific viewing areas. For example, the circumstances for someone living in Galveston may be much different for those in Houston or Beaumont,” she said.

6. Weigh the pros and cons of important decisions such as whether or not to evacuate. “If there is a mandatory evacuation for the area you’re in, then by all means evacuate. However, if the choice is optional, take the time to list the advantages and disadvantages and see if one list outweighs the other,” says Dr. Davidson. “Make sure your reasons are based on facts rather than emotions. After the evacuation disaster of Hurricane Rita, I heard many people say they would never evacuate again. However, if your area of town is expected to get hit with a category five hurricane, that thought may not be logical.”

Finally, Dr. Davidson says that if the anxiety extends beyond the fear of the storm and into several areas of someone’s life, it may be time to seek professional help.

“Anxiety disorder is one of the most common mental illnesses in the United States. It can affect a person’s job, relationships and overall mental well-being,” says Dr. Davidson. “The good news is that anxiety disorders are treatable.”