Why Self Care Should Be Included in Your Hurricane Kit

Posted on Oct 10th 2017 by Elizabeth Dickson RN, MSN

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Hurricane Irma was a record-breaking storm which dealt a stunning blow to nearly the entire state of Florida.  Millions of Florida residents and tourists took to the roads attempting to evacuate the monster storm.  Nerves became frazzled, and stress levels skyrocketed, as gasoline and non-perishable food became scarce, and even the most remote of back roads became clogged with evacuation traffic.  Bread and bottled water disappeared from shelves, and Floridians worried that their homes and belongings would disappear in the wrath of Hurricane Irma.

As a lifetime resident of Jacksonville, I watched with dread as the storm track crept closer to our state.  Weather forecasters used words like “catastrophic” and “apocalyptic”, causing even the most storm-seasoned Floridian to sit up and pay attention.  I started feeling afraid and unsure of what to do.  Should I pack up my family and flee?  Where would we go?  Would we get stranded on the interstate?  Would our home be destroyed?  Not helping the matter was the fact that no one seemed to know where the storm was headed.  The cone of concern was coming right up the East Coast of the state… Just kidding… It was now targeting the West Coast.  My parents and sister in Tampa were now directly in the path of a Category 4 hurricane.  As I spoke with my mother on the phone, I did my best to hide the fact that I was beginning to silently panic.

In the end, Irma sliced her way up the spine of the state, and virtually everyone in Florida felt her presence on some level.  The hurricane moved into the Jacksonville area after nightfall (of course!) which added an extra level of fear to my first legitimate hurricane experience.  The trees on my property, which looked so beautiful and welcoming when I had first bought my home, became evil, swaying sources of stress as I listened to the wind thrashing through the branches.  I found myself arguing internally with the meteorologist reports of wind gusts of 70mph.  I just KNEW that the wind speed had to be at least 90+… It was blowing SO HARD!  I could hear the sickening sound of wood cracking somewhere out in the darkness, and I knew that at any moment, the giant pine tree bending violently in the wind would come plunging through our roof like a knife through butter. 

Thankfully, the giant scary pine tree stayed put, albeit with a noticeable lean towards my house.  When the sun rose the next morning I found my neighborhood to be a huge mess, but largely intact.  But when I began seeing images of the historic flooding in downtown Jacksonville, I again became emotional.  My hometown was now underwater.  The Riverside park where I took my son for his first stroller ride had been inundated by the dark, angry waters of the St. John’s River.  The irreplaceable gardens of the Cummer Museum had also succumbed to the St. John’s… I looked with tears in my eyes at pictures I had taken in those very same gardens the weekend before. As bad as all of this was, so many others in Florida experienced utter and complete devastation.  As I watched these scenes of disaster unfold, I found myself feeling guilty for fretting over the lack of A/C, and for getting annoyed with my 3-year old, who didn’t understand that we couldn’t watch Paw Patrol right now.  Many people didn’t have a house left to come home to.  I found myself struggling with many different emotions, as well as physical and mental exhaustion.

The stress of watching a catastrophic hurricane approach, combined with preparations/evacuations, riding out the storm itself, and the trials of evacuees trying to get back home  – all starts to weigh down heavily on us as Floridians as we begin to pick up the pieces after this storm.  The weight of hurricane aftermath doesn’t stop there, as many of us find ourselves navigating the waters of filing insurance claims for hurricane damage.  Those who are parents to young children, or caretakers for older adults, can feel additional responsibilities to help those we care for feel safe, and to make them as comfortable as possible as we try to get back to a sense of “normal”.

It is easy to get bogged down in hurricane recovery, but it is so important for all of us to make sure we are not only taking care of our homes and families, but also taking care of ourselves.  Some parts of Florida will take longer than others to return to normal operations, but as our daily routines begin coming back online, make sure you are keeping track of how you are feeling, both physically and emotionally.  Preventative health screenings may not seem that important when you’re facing recovery from a record-breaking hurricane, but self-care is especially important during this time. 

As you clean up your yards and homes, listen to your body.  Don’t overdo it with physical activity, and take precautions when working to avoid injury.  If health services are back online in your area, try your best to keep those screenings up to date.  If you have your yearly check-up scheduled with your doctor, keep that appointment whenever possible.  And if you are struggling with emotional stress post-Irma, talk with your doctor about how you are feeling.  Make sure you include self-care in your post-hurricane to-do list. 

Hurricane Irma was my first full-fledged hurricane experience, and most likely won’t be my last.  Through the images of devastation, I not only felt fear and sadness, but also pride in my neighbors, my city, and my state, as we came together to help each other during and after the storm.  And it isn’t over yet.  But as Floridians, we are resilient in the face of disaster – we will continue to rebuild and move forward. 

Continue taking care of each other, and remember to take care of yourselves as well.

#floridastrong #preventionmatters          

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Elizabeth Dickson RN, MSN

Elizabeth is a Registered Nurse who is native of Jacksonville, Florida. When she isn’t crafting health care improvement strategies, she stays busy chasing her toddler, snuggling her French bulldog, and guzzling ALL the coffee. Elizabeth loves lighthouses, corny ghost chaser TV shows, and anything related to the Titanic.

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