Help Is Available If Life's Storms Lead To PTSD

As an RN at a clinic that specializes in mental health treatments, my experience with Hurricane Michael, a category 5 hurricane/155 miles an hour winds, may give me some insight on a personal level into Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This article discusses natural disasters and PTSD. Nurses General Nursing Article

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Help Is Available If Life's Storms Lead To PTSD

When the wind howls during a particularly bad thunderstorm, I can feel stressed and anxious. I sometimes find myself starting to relive a day nearly five years ago when I hunkered down with my elderly parents in their Florida Panhandle farmhouse as Hurricane Michael roared ashore from the Gulf of Mexico with 155 mph winds. For more than an hour, my childhood home shuttered and trees snapped, but we all survived that terrifying day.

But the ordeal changed me forever.

For many years, people not in the healthcare field often thought that PSTD was largely limited to soldiers who returned from war. More recently, the general public has come to understand that people who have never set foot on a battlefield can experience PTSD. Victims of child sexual abuse and other trauma and survivors of mass shootings can have agonizing flashbacks.

Natural disasters are one of the often overlooked triggers for PTSD. Survivors may face haunting memories of the psychological, physical, financial, and social problems they endured.

With hurricane season starting June 1, not to mention other threats from Mother Nature, including tornadoes and floods, this is a good time to take a look at natural disasters and PTSD.

As a near lifelong Floridian, many people think that I am used to hurricanes and that I shouldn't be having "these thoughts," or it's just easier not to dwell on it. But it's not that simple.

So, What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder is defined as a mental health condition that can follow after experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event. Research finds that between 30 and 40 percent of victims exposed to hurricanes and other disasters develop PTSD, which is diagnosed when symptoms of trauma last more than a month.

According to research, symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder may begin in as little as three months but may not emerge for a year or longer. Various factors affect how likely it is that an individual would get PTSD:

  • Physical distance from the horrific event
  • Risk faced by themselves or family members
  • Severity of property destruction

PTSD Symptoms

The symptoms can be broken down into four general categories:

  • Recurring and distressing memories, flashbacks and nightmares.
  • Avoiding places, people or activities that remind one of the events and/or
  • trying to avoid thinking about it.
  • Negative changes in thinking and mood; negative thoughts about oneself or the world; hopelessness about the future; loss of interest in previous fun activities; and social isolation.
  • Feeling easily startled, sleeplessness, irritability, self-destructive behavior, and stressing about danger even in routine situations.

The National Institute of Mental Health researchers say that personality traits have a bearing on why some people develop PTSD.

Not everyone who lives through a dangerous and disastrous event develops PTSD, according to the institute, which is the lead federal agency on mental health.

Risk Factors/Triggers

Risk factors include personal injury, seeing someone killed or hurt, or a family history of mental illness.

Triggers of the disorder include anything that might cause a person to recall the trauma. Graphic images from a traumatic event or violence may lead to a flashback for some people.

Less obvious factors, including songs, smells or even colors, can also be triggers, depending on someone's experience.

Many people are aware of what triggers their PSTD; others don't know what brings about their anger or fear.

PTSD symptoms can vary in severity over time. Many people who have PTSD find their instinctive responses are extremely rapid and significantly exaggerated when triggered by certain sounds, the most common being a loud, unexpected noise.

For me, hearing a tree fall can bring flashbacks of the hurricane that my family and I survived in 2018.


Fortunately, help is available from mental health professionals with experience treating PTSD. The main treatments that are in practice today are medications, psychotherapy or both.

Psychiatrists who diagnose PTSD always work with the patient to find the best medication/medications. In addition, psychotherapy, or "talk therapy,” includes a variety of treatment techniques that the mental health professional can use to help patients change and identify troubling thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

What Can Those with PTSD Do to Help Themselves?

  • First and foremost, talk to your healthcare provider about treatment
  • options. Then make sure you follow the treatment plan.
  • Expect your symptoms to improve steadily, not immediately.
  • Exercise and engage in other activities to reduce stress.
  • Try to maintain routines for exercise, meals and sleep.
  • Spend time with trusted relatives or friends.

To cope with my personal stress, I have learned to do deep breathing exercises. I also use smartphone apps for relaxation. There are many apps that assist with this, such as "virtualhopebox" and "Mindfulness.” In addition, I exercise by hiking and enjoying nature.

The biggest coping mechanism for me is to educate new Floridians on how to cope with hurricane season.

We obviously have no control over natural disasters - where they go, when they happen, and what they will destroy. But we do have control over seeking help if needed.

Do not hesitate to seek out and make an appointment with a mental health professional. Also, find self-help ways to cope with anxiety and stress from trauma and everyday life.

Just don't forget to prepare for Mother Nature the best you can.


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): Mayo Clinic

PTSD following a natural disaster: PTSD UK

Taking Care of Emotional Health After a Hurricane: Laborers' Health & Safety Fund of North America

How people with PTSD can develop hearing/sound difficulties": PTSD UK

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

I have my Bachelor's degree in Nursing from Florida State University, and a Master's degree in Health Services with an Emphasis on Wellness Promotion from Independent University. I have 33 years of nursing experience ranging from Medical-surgical, Emergency room, PACU, and now Mental Health.

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