Information Possibly Outdated
The information presented on this page was originally released on September 15, 2005. It may not be outdated, but please search our site for more current information. If you plan to quote or reference this information in a publication, please check with the Extension specialist or author before proceeding.
Take steps to manage stress after Katrina
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Families may have survived one life-altering storm only to face more destructive forces from within.
Marilyn Bailey, leadership development area agent with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, knows firsthand about the stresses created in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Her home in Bay St. Louis is gone, and her office with the Hancock County Extension Service was bulldozed without workers being allowed to examine the debris for materials to salvage.
“When we evacuated on Sunday morning, we never considered complete destruction,” Bailey said. “It's been hard to comprehend news that entire towns and neighborhoods are gone. Our family is thankful we're all OK, but our nerves are shot. The only thing that is getting us through this is our humor and our faith in God.”
Normally, her role within the Extension Service would put Bailey in the middle of the recovery efforts. Instead, she has her hands full caring for her elderly parents who lived near her. They all evacuated to a relative's home in Pensacola the day before Katrina hit. The storm seriously damaged her mother's 90-year-old family home in Hancock County where her parents lived.
Like so many other storm victims, Bailey said she and her husband are finding it hard to know where to begin forming a recovery plan.
“We just keep repeating, ‘One day at a time,' and hope that tomorrow will be better,” Bailey said.
Patsilu Reeves, Extension family life education specialist, said all family members will need special attention during the period of recovery. Family research after 1992's Hurricane Andrew revealed a spike in domestic abuse, substance abuse, child abuse and divorce rates.
“A disaster of the magnitude of Hurricane Katrina can cause otherwise healthy marriages and individuals to be shaken to the core,” Reeves said. “Much like the 100-year-old houses that had weathered many previous hurricanes, this disaster could be too much for some people to endure.”
Reeves said a realistic awareness of the situation and effective communication are keys to families surviving Katrina's aftermath.
“Patience is easier to request than to give at this point. Everyone is calling on strength from the depths of their being to be patient with others, but it is essential for our mental health,” she said. “Everyone is coping with extreme emotions.”
Reeves encouraged families to take time to sit down and communicate priorities and plans for recovery. Recognize that each person may have different goals.
“One person may consider housing to be the most immediate need, another may consider financial issues more important. Getting the children settled into a routine also will be important, but a family can't have multiple No. 1 priorities,” Reeves said. “Try not to let the urgent needs become overwhelming. Remember that recovery is going to take time, probably a long time.”
Reeves said each member of the family will need extra attention, especially children. Avoid heated discussions in front of children, and seek quiet times both with and without children.
“Hurricane Katrina splintered some communities and family support systems, but it also plunged some families into cramped quarters and more togetherness than normal,” she said. “Ask others to help, and accept offers of assistance. Families can take turns watching each other's children while adults have time to themselves.”
Just as the blame game takes place on a national level, Reeves said some couples will blame one another for various issues related to Katrina.
“This is no body's fault. We can't change the past, so everyone needs to stay focused on what's important,” Reeves said. “Look around and you'll see many other people there who also could not have prepared for a storm of this size. You are not alone.”
Resist the temptation to return to bad habits such as smoking, overeating or substance abuse. Maintain a healthy diet if possible.
Contact: Dr. Patsilu Reeves, (662) 325-1801