Hurricane season in Houston can be stressful as we anticipate the next hurricane or tropical storm headed our way. Since Harvey struck almost two years ago, many of us have become even more aware of weather changes and may have developed storm fears or weather phobias. When it starts to rain, I find myself anxiously looking out the window and I notice my body’s response to intense wind, loud thunder, and water levels rising in my street. My muscles tighten, my heart rate increases, and I notice the familiar tension in my stomach that arises when I’m feeling scared.
13 million people were directly affected by the storm, more than 22,000 were rescued from floodwaters, and approximately 32,000 were temporarily housed in shelters (Shultz & Galea, 2017).
Although my home did not flood during Harvey, I experienced the same fear and helplessness many Houstonians felt at the time. A survey conducted four months after Harvey found that 18% of respondents had feelings of nervousness, hopelessness, restlessness, worthlessness, and depression following the hurricane and 48% of those whose homes were seriously damaged experienced these feelings (Martin, B., 2018).
Having spoken with friends and family, private practice clients, and high school students, I have realized that every Houstonian was affected by Harvey in some way.
Many young children have anxiety before and during storms or bad weather and you may have noticed this anxiety increase following Harvey. Children who had negative experiences during the hurricane may re-experience startle responses, anxiety, and stress if similar weather rolls in (Children At Risk, 2018).
You may have noticed some longer-term behaviors arise following Harvey. These responses can look different in each child. However, some behaviors that you may have noticed are:
- Concentration issues
- Difficulty sleeping
- Physical complaints
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
If symptoms continued long after the effects of the hurricane were over and if you’re still noticing concerning behaviors in your child today, it’s important to rule out post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD usually develops after being involved or witnessing a traumatic event, such as a natural disaster.
Symptoms of PTSD in children can include:
- Re-enacting what happened in play or drawings
- Nightmares about the hurricane
- Anticipating or feeling that the hurricane is happening again
- Avoiding reminders of the hurricane
- Inability to remember events relating to the hurricane
- Inability to concentrate
- Always on the lookout for danger
- Feeling grouchy or angry more often than usual
- Easily startled
- Lasting beliefs that the world is unsafe
In Houston adults who experienced the hurricane personally or experienced a loss of property, or displacement, there was a significant increase in PTSD symptoms and depression following Harvey (Schwartz, et al, 2018).
Symptoms of PTSD in adolescents and adults can include:
- Vivid nightmares about the traumatic event
- Vivid images about the event coming up unexpectedly
- Feeling as if you are reliving the event
- Becoming extremely upset or anxious when thinking about the event
- Avoiding reminders of the event
- Difficulty remembering parts of the event
- Reduced interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Feeling detached from others
- Feeling of numbness
- Trouble falling or staying asleep
- Feeling as if you are on high alert at all times
Weather Fears & Phobias
Many children, teens, and adults may not meet the criteria for PTSD, but may notice an increase in anxiety or fear when the weather gets bad. Harvey was a scary time for all of us and we may have some residual feelings that pop up when we’re reminded of that time.
Some children and adults may have developed specific fears relating to weather, which we can call weather phobias. Phobic behaviors will look different than behaviors related to PTSD.
Some weather phobia behaviors in children may include:
- Checking the weather before leaving the house
- Fear of leaving the house
- Anxiety and/or panic during storms
- Inability to sleep or eat during bad weather
- Obsessively watching news coverage of severe weather
Calming the Storm
Whether you’re continuing to notice symptoms of PTSD, weather phobia, anxiety, or other symptoms related to you or your child’s Harvey experience, it’s important for you to reach out to a mental health professional for help.
Symptoms that arise because of traumatic events, such as natural disasters, are very treatable. At BPC, we use a variety of evidence-based treatment methods to help children and adults with symptoms of PTSD, trauma, phobias, and anxiety. Depending on the needs of you or your child, we will choose the most appropriate method. Visit our Trauma and PTSD page to learn more about trauma and how we treat it.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing is a type of psychotherapy that allows the brain to use its innate ability to heal in order to process traumatic or disturbing experiences. EMDR has been shown to work much more quickly than traditional talk therapy and has been proven effective in treating millions of people worldwide.
At BPC, several of our therapists are trained in EMDR and have used it to successfully treat children, adolescents, and adults.
At BPC, we believe in the Power of Play! We believe that children use play to communicate feelings and process information. Play therapy is very effective in treating children who have experienced a trauma. For children it may be difficult or impossible to talk about a traumatic experience but, through play, they are able to communicate with their therapist and heal. Visit our Play Therapy page to learn more about it!
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a goal-oriented form of therapy, which helps people identify and change problematic ways of thinking and behaving, which changes their feelings. CBT also helps people learn to cope with and manage stress.
Help is Here!
You and your family don’t have to continue living with fear, anxiety, and discomfort when bad weather rolls in. Schedule a free 20 minute phone consultation to discuss how we can help you.
Continue to follow our blog and read our next post, Help Your Child Manage Weather Fears to learn some practical tips you can use at home.