Hi. I’m Lori Miller and this is your Mental Health Moment.
Here in South Florida we are right smack dab in the middle of hurricane season.
This is the time of year that we “keep an eye on the tropics,” as our fine meteorologists say.
It becomes a constant refrain.
The minute a puff of air pops off the coast of Africa, the weather folks start tracking its every movement.
Where will it go?
How bad will it get?
Will it even survive the journey across two oceans?
When should we get BOTH eyes on the tropics?
And it ramps up in August because it’s the peak month of the season. The waters that fuel the storms start really heating up.
The reality is that most of these little disturbances won’t even turn into hurricanes.
And most of those who do won’t even hit land at all. They become what we call “fish storms.”
Granted, when a hurricane does hit, they can cause complete devastation.
So the threat is very, very real.
But when you’ve lived here a while, you can start to tell the exact point when the fear of a big storm becomes a real threat you should pay attention to and prepare for.
It’s like playing a great big game of chicken.
For many people, especially those new to the area, it can be very anxiety producing.
You worry about a threat that technically COULD happen, but hasn’t happened yet, and possibly may not ever happen.
But very well could.
How’s that supposed to work?
Doesn’t that sound like your anxiety?
Do you worry about all the possible things that could wreak devastation on your life?
Ten days from now?
A year from now?
Everyone tells you to live in the present and to let go of your worry. That you’re living so far ahead that you can’t enjoy what you have right now.
But if you let go of that worry, how can you make sure you’re prepared for a possible hit?
I’ll tell you what I tell new Florida residents who come from the landlocked areas of the world.
First of all, worry isn’t preparation.
Worry is not an action you can take that actually does anything.
When you worry, you’re not focused on taking specific steps that will protect the things closest to you.
You just want to keep all bad things from happening. That’s not a reasonable strategy.
But when you prepare for a threat, you consider what’s most important and put your energies into real actions that answer to that actual threat.
You wouldn’t put your important documents in a waterproof box if the threat is from wildfire. To be effective, the preparation should be appropriate to the threat.
Worry is not an actionable strategy to help you prepare for the things that can truly rock your world.
Ask yourself how effective your worry is in being prepared for something that could actually happen.
Use a little if/then logic on yourself.
IF I worry about this right now, THEN exactly how does it set me up to handle this possible situation later?
The second thing to remember is that every storm is different.
As much as you prepare, you can’t plan for every possible scenario.
There are too many variables in a storm to even come close to that.
Some storms have destructive winds that tear through homes and businesses and leave a mountain of rubble in their wake.
Other storms have more rain than wind. These are called “wet storms” because they contain so much precipitation that the devastation comes more from flooding than wind.
So if you boarded up your windows for strong winds, but didn’t consider that your home is in a low-lying area, you can still suffer from the event.
Being prepared doesn’t necessarily save you from what you don’t know.
So all your obsessive worry about your job, your family and your health, with the idea of being prepared, still won’t shield you from possible devastation.
Something completely unexpected can still happen but you just spent all that time worrying about that other thing.
You could have used that energy more effectively.
The third thing to know is to not let others get you worked up about the storm.
My phone blows up every time the weather folks start losing their minds over a new storm.
Well-meaning family and friends from other parts of the country have seen the news and they want you to evacuate right now. Even if there’s no threat.
Thanks to our 24/7 media cycle and social media, we can follow these storms down to every painstaking detail, most of it completely outside our expertise.
“The millibars are going down. We’re watching that very closely.”
I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do with that information. Is there a dial somewhere where we can turn the millibars UP?
Can we just do that?
Some people will paint every doomsday scenario for you if you let them.
Part of handling your anxiety is being a gatekeeper for what you allow into your world.
There are some horrible things happening in our world, no question. It’s a lot to take in sometimes.
But worrying about all the things that could happen to you on your way to somewhere very normal just serves to feed your anxiety.
And you feed that worry by listening to all the gory details over and over.
By commiserating with others just as worried as you are.
By obsessing over all the minute details of a situation just so you can play them back in your mind and keep the cycle going.
Ask yourself this question:
If I take in all this information, what, then, is my role in this situation? How can I use this information to improve the circumstances?
In most cases, you don’t even have a role.
And that’s the real takeaway during hurricane season.
You have no role in any event that happens other than being prepared for what you know and being available to help others who haven’t yet learned.
That’s all you’re responsible for.
Playing this role requires you to focus on what you know today and to plan for what you can.
That’s all you really have in front of you.
The rest comes down to your faith and trust to use what you have to weather the storm.
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