If you’re anywhere in the Denver or surrounding areas, you just witnessed a winter storm of historic proportions.
A “bomb cyclone” hit the Front Range yesterday, resulting in hurricane-level winds, thousands of folks left without power, numerous accidents and stranded vehicles. Additionally, Denver International Airport grounded all flights yesterday, leaving over 4,000 people stranded at the airport. As I write this, runways are starting to open, but many major highways are still closed.
As a Highly Sensitive Person, these types of experiences can be distressing for many reasons.
We are sensitive to the suffering of others and to have it happen in our own community can be overwhelming. We process experiences deeply so you find yourself thinking repeatedly about all the devastation and it’s impact on others. Chances are when you hear about folks that lost power or had to spend the night in their car, you feel their emotions – as if you’re experiencing it, too.
It’s also very possible that you were directly impacted by this storm, either being in an accident, stranded in your car, left without power, or stuck at the airport. If so, I hope that as you read this, you are warm, safe, and fed. The stress and anxiety of your experience can linger with you for days or weeks.
When emergencies strike, such as this storm, our life is disrupted.
Our sense of safety and predictability is upturned. Our own mortality, which we often take for granted, is brought into the forefront of our thoughts. Highly Sensitive People already experience everyday emotions deeply. Thus, when faced with a huge event, those emotions can feel even more intense and overwhelming.
There are countless other articles out there that might talk about emergency preparedness (read them!), but this article will be focused on how to take care of yourself as a sensitive being in the aftermath of this storm.
Advocate for your safety and needs
As a Highly Sensitive Person, braving the roads today or in the coming days might bring you more anxiety than others. You have the right to advocate for staying home, going into work late, or working from home. If you were without power or stranded in your car, give yourself plenty of time to recover from this experience. If you are staying with guests, do not hesitate to gently advocate (within reason) for what you need to feel comfortable. Give yourself plenty of down time to take care of yourself and process the event.
Limit your exposure to news + social media
The news can be a great source of information, but it can also be very stressful to watch all the negative experiences happening from the storm. As I watched the news yesterday, it had images of stranded cars, fallen trees, closed roads. There were constant updates about power outages and any fatalities. At times I felt ‘frozen’ as I was bombarded with more and more details about the storm.
Hearing this kind of information, when you don’t *need* to know it, can be stressful and evoke difficult emotions in sensitive folks. It’s ok to limit your exposure to the news. Depending on your news sources, the images and stories you hear can be overwhelming and bring on a lot of emotion. Some news stories can be even gratuitous and traumatic for HSPs to hear over and over. There are many ways that you can get the information you need (i.e. road conditions or school closures) without having to watch news shows or scroll social media.
If you’re home safe today, make the most of it
Many people were advised to stay home today and avoid the roads so first responders could have easier access to stranded cards and fallen debris. Perhaps, you had to stay home to take care of your children who didn’t have school today.
If you find yourself at home today, do your best to make the most of it. It can be a day to get caught up on chores, tasks, or just have a day in your pajamas. Enjoy some quality time with your kids. Get caught up on that book you’ve been dying to read. Do yoga to soothe your nervous system. You’re probably feeling the collective stress and energy of this city. It’s ok to take a day to just BE.
When an epic blizzard (or any other natural disaster) strikes, it’s normal to feel helpless and out of control. The best way to alleviate this is to take some kind of action. I recommend either bettering your surroundings or helping others. This can be as simple as checking in with your neighbors to see if they need anything. You might shovel your neighbors’ driveway. Perhaps you and a friend can trade child care. You might simply offer a listening ear and support to those who were impacted.
Improve your surroundings
As I mentioned above, when we feel powerless, one of the best things we can do for yourself is taking some kind of action. If you’re feeling cabin fever after being inside for over 24 hours, take that energy to clean or declutter areas of your home that need attention. Take care of that pile of clutter on your counter. You can even finally get yourself started on creating a capsule wardrobe! If you don’t have the ability or energy to clean or declutter, simply lighting a candle or spraying some diffused essential oils can create a more cozy and peaceful environment.
Look for the good amidst the loss
It’s easy for us to focus on all the damage and loss that happened yesterday. Our brain is actually trained to focus on the negative. However, if you find yourself overwhelmed with the sound of sirens, or preoccupied thinking of the folks that were impacted, focus on the ways that other folks showed up for each other. Focus on the good of those that stepped up to help, those that calmly rolled with the every changing situation, those that were supportive and adaptable.
Get professional help if you find yourself struggling
When an experience overwhelms your nervous system, it can get stored in our body as a traumatic experience, leading to anxiety, sadness, or feelings of helplessness. It’s important to know that trauma is anything that threatens our sense of safety and well-being, even if we were not actually harmed. If you find yourself still feeling impacted by this experience in the coming weeks, it might be worth exploring getting help from a mental health professional, support group, or another HSP-knowledgable provider.
If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by life events…
I might be able to help. I specialize in working with Highly Sensitive People, especially those that have experienced overwhelming stress, anxiety, or traumatic events. I utilize EMDR to help reprocess difficult memories that are still ‘stuck’ and causing you distress, anxiety, or overwhelm.
As a sensitive people, you may be more impacted than others by stressful and difficult events. But, that doesn’t mean you have to suffer.
Arianna Smith, MA, LPC, EMDR