Preparing for and anticipating the arrival of a large-scale hurricane can be distressing for people living in the hurricane’s path. There may be uncertainty ahead about your living arrangements, work and other important life factors, especially if you have been evacuated.

You may also be concerned about storm damage to your home, neighborhood and community. The near-constant stream of news about the storm’s arrival can give rise to feelings of stress, anxiety and fear. Recognizing these common emotional reactions and taking steps to prepare for the storm will be helpful in safeguarding your emotional well-being.

Here are some simple and effective ways to manage your storm-related fears and anxiety. Many are essential ingredients for a healthy lifestyle and adopting them can help improve your overall emotional and physical well-being

What you can do

Have a plan and implement it. It is important to have a plan for you and your family (including pets) to be safe during the storm. Recent hurricanes and other weather-related events have illustrated the importance of emergency preparedness. The American Red Cross recommends steps you can take to prepare. Find out about available transportation, relatives who might be able to take you in, shelter locations and other important details. Knowing in advance that you are prepared for the storm can lessen your anxiety.

Get the facts. Gather information that will help you accurately determine your risk so that you can take reasonable actions. Find a credible source you can trust such as your governor’s office, local or state public health agencies or the National Weather Service. Limit your exposure to news reports that focus on damage and destruction.

Make connections. Good relationships with close family members, friends or others are important. You may find that you may need to rely on electronic forms of communication to stay in touch with your loved ones. Connecting with others also preparing for the arrival of a hurricane may be an additional source of support.

Stay healthy. A healthy lifestyle — including proper diet, exercise and rest — is your best defense against any threat. A healthy body can have a positive impact on your thoughts and emotions, enabling you to make better decisions and better deal with the hurricane’s uncertainties.

Reach out to your children. Help children by restricting constant viewing of the news, giving them realistic assurances that plans are in place to keep them safe and maintaining their routines as much as possible.

Maintain a hopeful outlook. Remember that the federal government, your state government and many nongovernmental disaster services agencies are tracking and preparing for the hurricane. Draw upon skills that have helped you successfully manage past challenges to help you through the current storm.

How psychologists can help

Psychologists can help by providing evidence-based treatments to help people manage their emotions around traumatic events. Most commonly, psychologists use therapy (sometimes referred to as psychotherapy or talk therapy). There are many different styles of therapy, but the psychologist will choose the type that best addresses the person’s problem and best fits the patient’s characteristics and preferences.

Some common types of therapy are cognitive, behavioral, cognitive-behavioral, interpersonal, humanistic, psychodynamic or a combination of a few therapy styles. Therapy can be for an individual, couples, family or other group. Some psychologists are trained to use hypnosis, which research has found to be effective for a wide range of conditions including pain, anxiety and mood disorders.

For some conditions, therapy and medication are a treatment combination that works best. For people who benefit from medication, psychologists work with primary care physicians, pediatricians and psychiatrists on their overall treatment. Two states, New Mexico and Louisiana, have laws allowing licensed psychologists with additional, specialized training to prescribe from a list of medications that improve emotional and mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety.

To find a psychologist in your area, visit the Psychologist Locator.

Thanks to psychologists Raymond F. Hanbury, PhD, ABPP and Eva D. Sivan, PhD who assisted with this article.
Updated May 2011