How to cope with post-hurricane stress and trauma

A member of the Maldonado family walk through the house after it flooded during Hurricane Ida.
A member of the Maldonado family walk through the house after it flooded during Hurricane Ida. Photo credit Brandon Bell/Getty Images

In the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, many Louisiana residents are grappling with the stress of recovering after the storm’s destruction.

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Whether watching it unfold hour-by-hour on television or hunkering down in your home unable to evacuate, people are facing an “extreme level of trauma,” Ashlie Martinez Landry, a clinical social worker at Ochsner Hospital in Jefferson, told NOLA News.

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Finding a place to stay or not knowing when you can return to your home — if it withstood the dangerous storm — can create extreme anxiety and pressure.

More than 1.1 million homes and businesses in Louisiana don’t have electricity. That means there’s no relief for those weathering 106-degree heat this week. Almost 450,000 people have no running water. Nearly everyone is without wireless cell service.

“All of us will feel the effects of severe stress. It could last weeks or longer, but if it impedes your functionality, that’s something you should address,” Landry encouraged. “People are probably between shock and grief. Some people might also feel very numb to it, disassociated almost.”

Landry recommends people keep in contact with loved ones, being honest in their dialogue, or seeking out a therapist if and when possible. But, for now, journaling the experience helps, she said.

“Just putting it on paper can help people get it out of their brain,” Landry explained. “If we don’t do any of that, we have it all in our brain. All of our short-term memory slots are full, and then we wonder, ‘Where are my keys? Did I run a red light?’ There ends up being more panic because the brain is holding onto things.”

PTSD can set in even if you weren’t one of the hundreds of residents who survived a dangerous water rescue, but writing down your thoughts can help you process and identify triggers.

After a devastating storm, the top priority for everyone is surviving without the resources typically and readily available. Sleep, however, is essential to maintaining your mental health wellness.

“Stay calm and recognize this is a challenging time, and you’re going to have some uncommon reactions,” Landry noted. “This is an extreme, unique event, but tell yourself positive mantras: ‘You can do it. We got this.’”

Ochsner Medical Center is offering Hurricane Ida survivors free counseling through September 6. Visit ochsner.org/anywhere and use the code IDATherapy to activate the discount.

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