Emotional trauma and stress linked to experiencing severe weather threats.
Published: May 1, 2019
By: Courtesy of UAB
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In many parts of the country, tornado warnings and threats are commonplace in the spring and the early summer months. Many people have experienced an active tornado in their communities firsthand, watching the physical devastation unfold in real time.
While communities and individuals tend to have physical disaster plans in place, there is a great deal of emotional trauma and stress linked to experiencing severe weather threats, most especially in the aftermath of a disaster.
“Reactions vary from person to person; but we see that strong emotional reactions occur after the threat of severe weather, especially in people who have experienced weather-related trauma before,” says David Knight, Ph.D., associate professor in the UAB Department of Psychology.
Knight explains that the emotional impact that often comes with severe weather threats, particularly tornadoes, can occur in the form of:
- Reliving the event in flashbacks or dreams
- Mood changes, such as depression or heightened anxiety
- Avoidance of people or places where trauma was experienced
- Hyperarousal, which can include a racing heartbeat, trouble catching breath, being easily startled
- Cognitive function, which can include difficulty concentrating, excessive anxiety and/or worry
- Fatigue, appetite changes, crying unexpectedly
“Because of the unpredictable nature of tornadoes and the lack of control we have over Mother Nature, these threats of weather and/or potential for impact can be frightening because we’re experiencing a threat to our lives, loved ones and belongings,” Knight explains. “It’s OK to have a range of emotional responses for any period of time afterward. Knowing that can in some ways be comforting and help us manage emotions when we experience the next threat.”
It is common in the Midwest and South for severe weather threats to follow one after another this time of year, even after disaster strikes. The emotional toll, while natural, can be exhausting.
“Disaster is not permanent; but emotions can linger for days, months or years, especially if there is a rebuilding phase that people experience,” Knight says. “Being prepared for severe weather season – both physically and emotionally – can help people cope with overwhelming feelings they are likely to re-experience when the next threat of severe weather occurs.”
Courtesy of UAB