With Hurricane Season Here, Behavioral Health Specialists Warn of Heightened “Hurricane Anxiety”

Jul 18, 2022 at 10:42 am by pj



With predictions of above-average hurricane activity this summer, behavioral specialists across Florida are warning of a significant uptick in “hurricane anxiety” as the stress of preparing for a pending storm can layer on top of already simmering frustrations associated with high gas prices, supply chain problems and the rising costs of goods.

“From a mental health perspective, we’re talking about a perfect storm,” says Mark Cardillo, program director of behavioral health for HCA Florida West Tampa Hospital and HCA Florida South Tampa Hospital, both part of HCA Florida Healthcare. “It’s the totality of all the stresses we’re currently experiencing compounded by worries of a pending hurricane.”

“Hurricane anxiety” can overwhelm individuals when a hurricane is in the forecast

The term “hurricane anxiety” represents “the intense and persistent stress that overwhelms individuals when a hurricane is in the forecast, from waiting in long lines at the grocery store to finding enough plywood to board up windows and filling up your car with gas,” he explains.

All of that emotional stress, if not managed properly, can lead to riskier, more panicked decisions such as attempting to drive through high water or evacuating in the midst of a hurricane when leaders urge residents to shelter in place.

“You’re going to see anger, poor frustration tolerance, lack of eating and a lack of focus,” Cardillo says. “We also see increases in drug and alcohol abuse as well as acts of domestic violence.”

Florida’s elderly particularly at risk

“The issue of hurricane anxiety is particularly prevalent among Florida’s elderly population,” explains Dr. Kadesha Evans, executive director of behavioral health at HCA Florida West Hospital in Pensacola, part of the HCA Florida Healthcare network of hospitals.

She says elderly persons, especially those living alone, often lack the information that would ease their anxiety about a storm simply because they may struggle to access updates on a mobile phone or desktop computer like most of the population.

“It all goes back to the unknown of what’s actually happening,” Evans adds. “That’s why it’s important for the elderly not only to get information, but to get it in a way they can understand, whether that’s from their adult children or from some other form of support.”

As for alleviating hurricane anxiety, mental health experts recommend having a plan to prepare for a storm, from securing supplies to creating an evacuation plan well in advance of the storm. 

“When you sit down and make a list and work your way through those items, it tends to decrease one’s anxiety dramatically,” Cardillo says. “Above all, seek help if you need it.”

Turn to healthy activities to reduce anxiety

Healthy activities such as exercise, reading or working on a puzzle can also be effective in reducing one’s anxiety levels.

As for helping the elderly, Evans advises adult children of elderly persons address the core reasons of their loved one’s anxiety.

“Even if you have plans in place, we need to address the core reasons of one’s anxiety,” she adds. “It’s about actively listening to what they are actually afraid of.”

Dr. Nelson A. Hernandez, Chief of Psychiatry at HCA Florida Woodmont Hospital in Tamarac adds, “If fear or anxiety is increasing to the point someone is not able to function, I highly recommend they contact a behavioral health specialist; whether that’s a therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist or primary care physician, for advice.  We know this can help, and also perhaps a low dose of medication to help with the crisis will be beneficial.”


Sections: Clinical