Doc Deason, local Tyler, TX Meteorologist, recently appeared on Facebook Live discussing storm anxiety with The Bridge Therapeutic Services therapists and co-owners, Erin Young, LCSW and Jennifer Wood, LPC-S.
Weather can trigger past anxiety and stress both directly and indirectly. Anxieties directly related to weather would include feeling anxious from being in a past tornado, hurricane, flood, or other severe weather event. Anxieties indirectly related to the weather include current weather conditions such as lightning, thunder, tornado threats, or other sever weather conditions which can trigger past anxiety and stress that are not related to weather. Storms can trigger inward fears of not feeling safe and feeling out of control.
The back emotional part of the brain, responds to these fears of not feeling safe by activating the sympathetic nervous system. This activation triggers the fight/ flight response to protect a person in danger. This can lead to feeling nervous, restless, panic, increased heart rate, trembling, trouble sleeping, worry, and physical symptoms. Common childhood anxiety symptoms include anger, questioning, physical complaints, trouble sleeping, trouble focusing, heightened emotions, hiding, and clingy.
The brain and body respond in these ways to keep you safe. However, the switch can stay flipped and keep you in this place. When this happens it is important to remember the goal is to move to the front rational part of the brain, which will lead to being able to think more clearly and to problem solve. In order to move toward the front rational part of the brain, it is helpful to deep breathe as well as complete other calming strategies, which activate the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is also called rest and digest as it helps you feel calmer. Feeling calmer and moving towards the front rational brain will help you remember your safety plan, process the weather information from your weather source, and be there for your children.
How to stay calm during storms:
Prepare- Prepare by creating a safety plan for your family. Make sure each family member knows which room to go to and knows what will need to go in the room with you.
Learn – Learn about the weather from a professional informative source. Continue to follow the source throughout the storm rather then going to google, which can increase anxiety.
Notice- Notice what triggers your anxiety and what calms it.
Follow- Follow your family safety plan and a professional weather source for updates.
Breathe- Breathe long deep breaths.
Move- Move around by walking, jumping, stretching, and doing jumping jacks.
Remember- Remember this feeling and situation are temporary and will end.
Be curious- Be curious and ask yourself: What am I feeling? What am I specifically thinking about?
Support- Support by talking on the phone, texting, and having others with you will help you and people close to you to not feel alone.
Reflect- Reflect by thinking through: how you felt during the storm, how you reacted to your feelings during the storm, what actually happened with the storm, and ways you may do things differently next time.
Just as adults feel anxious during storms it is important to remember that children can as well. For children their anxiety can look a bit different then it does in adults, however the same principles of calming the mind down apply. A severe weather event is a time that your family is able to connect with each other and grow stronger by overcoming a difficult situation positively together.
Parenting anxious children during storms:
Think- Think about what storm knowledge each of your children can emotionally handle rather then what knowledge they academically can handle.
Model- Model calm to your children by helping yourself stay calm.
Connect- Connect with your children by helping them feel heard by listening, validating, and understanding them.
Move- Move with your children to help them release their anxiety by walking, jumping, stretching, and doing jumping jacks. Also, you can give them items to move in their hands such as a stress ball, silly putty, slime, and other types of fidget devises.
Distract- Distract your child by playing games, telling stories, and playing toys together.
Erin Young, LCSW
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