How to Stay Calm During Hurricane Irma: Advice From Experts

Panic about the impact of Category 5 Hurricane Irma has begun to spread rapidly in South Florida. Schools and businesses have closed, and officials recommend mass evacuation. Nevertheless, health and wellness experts say it’s important to remain calm and use stress-relief techniques to quell overwhelming anxiety, because panic and fear will only dull the ability to make rational decisions. Though it’s important to be prepared for the storm, it's vital to avoid catching the fear contagion.

Amanda Mestre, a Miami-based yoga instructor, Dr. Stephen McLeod-Bryant, a psychiatrist and clinical associate professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, and Dr. Daniel Jimenez, a clinical therapist and assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Miller School of Medicine, give their top recommendations to manage your storm-induced stress.

Advice From a Yogi: Amanda Mestre

1. Close your eyes and work on breathing techniques. Mestre’s method includes breathing in for four counts, holding for four counts, exhaling for four counts, and holding out for four counts. “Moving your breath in and out of your body helps bring down your nervous system and regulate anxiety. It will help you feel relaxed and calm,” she says.

2. Do positive visualization of the best possible outcome of the storm. “In your mind, visualize minimal damage, that everyone will be OK, and that no one will get hurt. Play a positive scenario out,” she says.

3. Incorporate movement or exercise. “Moving your body helps alleviate anxiety and built up tension.” She recommends simple yoga postures or working out at home in case the weather prohibits going outdoors.

Advice From a Psychiatrist: Dr. Stephen McLeod-Bryant

1. Stay informed with the news, but don’t obsess. “The most important way to stem your anxiety is only get news updates for 15 to 30 minutes on the storm at 8 p.m., 2 a.m., 8 a.m., and 2 p.m. The NHC fully updates their models at 5 p.m., 11 p.m., 5 a.m., and 11 a.m. It takes a while for the analysis to be fully incorporated and meaningful. Watching beyond that will only raise one's anxiety needlessly without helping one properly prepare,” McLeod-Bryant says.

2. Make sure you have a week's supply of your prescription medications. Visit your pharmacy or contact your doctor now if you need refills.

3. Stay in touch with your loved ones. Following the guidelines for preparing with family and friends can help you feel safe and supported.

4. Don't worry if you are getting started late. Do what you can; it's better late than never!

5. Have faith. “If you are a spiritual person, don't forget the rituals of your faith (prayer, meditation, hymns, yoga, etc.) to get you through,” he says.

Advice From a Therapist: Dr. Daniel Jimenez

1. Use diaphragmatic breathing. To practice this type of breathing, also known simply as deep breathing, engage your diaphragm. When you inhale, your chest and belly will rise. Then exhale deeply.

2. Engage in “pleasant events” or things you enjoy.
 Don't let hurricane prep consume you. Jimenez recommends activities such as writing, reading, crafting, or playing a musical instrument.

3. Use relaxation techniques. Jimenez recommends meditation, guided imagery, and progressive muscle relaxation. “Imagine yourself in any setting that helps you feel calm and relaxed. You can use audiotapes, books, or a teacher to guide you,” he says.

4. Actively move your body. Exercise, stretch, or practice yoga.