Hurricane Ian: How to Cope with ‘Anniversary Reaction’Mental Health
On September 28, the Fort Myers Beach Times Square Clock, one of Southwest Florida’s most beloved icons, will return in a ribbon-cutting ceremony held by Fort Myers Beach town officials. The event marks the year anniversary of Hurricane Ian’s devastation of Southwest Florida.
The new clock reminds us that recovery from a disaster like Hurricane Ian takes time and will continue as our community rebuilds on many levels, including physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
For many members of our communities, the anniversary of Hurricane Ian may lead to what mental health experts call “anniversary reactions,” which are memories of trauma about the danger of an event.
“Around the anniversary of a traumatic event like Hurricane Ian, survivors can experience symptoms such as worry, fear, and panic attacks,” says Dr. Ronald Smallwood, a board-certified psychiatrist with Lee Health Behavioral Health. “Reactions can involve several days or weeks of anxiety, anger, nightmares, flashbacks, or depression. And feelings of grief and sadness over the losses you’ve suffered, especially the loss of a loved one, are very common.”
Dr. Smallwood notes that not all survivors of a disaster or traumatic event experience an anniversary reaction. But for those who do, he says, anniversaries are opportunities for emotional healing.
“We can recognize September 28 as a time to recognize and remember losses we’ve experienced with Hurricane Ian,” he says. “It’s also when we can assess our accomplishments and resiliency and honor the emotional healing we’ve made in the past year.”
He says it’s important to pay attention to the emotions and issues that can come up during this time. Doing so will allow you to develop a perspective on the event and figure out how it fits in your heart, mind, and life.
What can you do to feel better?
Dr. Smallwood shares these tips for how to cope with anniversary distress:
- Make connections. Healthy relationships and strong support systems with family members, friends or others are vital. Talk with each other and share how you’re feeling. It’s important.
- Take care of your body. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle by eating healthfully, regularly exercising, and getting plenty of rest can do wonders for supporting your emotional health. Avoid alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs.
- Practice self-care. Do activities that bring you joy and relaxation. Meditation, for example, is a great way to help reduce symptoms and improve your overall well-being. Reach out to your children. Help your children by restricting constant viewing of the news, especially on social media. Reassure them that plans are in place to keep them safe and maintain their routines as much as possible.
How are you doing?
If you didn’t seek help after Hurricane Ian and you’re feeling overwhelmed as the anniversary approaches, there are treatments that can help. Also, if you've had treatment in the past, but stress is getting in the way of your daily activities, an expert with Lee Health Behavioral Health can help you think about new coping strategies.
“With the right support and resources, you can manage anxiety with professional help, self-care strategies, and regain control over your life,” Dr. Smallwood says.
If you, or someone you care about, are feeling overwhelmed with emotions like sadness, depression, or anxiety, reach out to our experienced, compassionate professionals at Lee Health Behavioral Health at 239-343-9180.
Also see Lee Health's Emergency Preparedness page for resources on how to protect your family before, during, and after a disaster.
Watch: Health Matters video on hurricane anxiety in children.
More resources for you
Hope For Healing is an initiative started by First Lady Casey DeSantis - a partnership across state agencies for mental health substance abuse support.
The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration operates a free 24/7 crisis counseling helpline for people involved in disasters, including hurricanes and tropical storms.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Alliance is an alliance of professional and advocacy organizations that provide educational resources to individuals diagnosed with PTSD and their loved ones; those at risk for developing PTSD; and medical, healthcare and other professionals. Visit http://www.ptsdalliance.org or call 1-877-507-PTSD.
SAMHSA Disaster Behavioral Health Mobile App. This free app offers guides for responders, teachers, parents, and caregivers and a directory of behavioral health service providers in the impacted area.
SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline: Call toll-free 1-800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs” to 66746
LEARN: Understanding Mental Health: Common Symptoms When Feeling Depressed and Anxious
Psychologist Dr. Victoria Frehe-Torres will discuss common symptoms of depression and anxiety. She will share clinical insights into how people usually experience these difficulties, helpful interventions, and when to reach out for additional help.
If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).