As I type these words, Hurricane Irma is ripping through the Caribbean as a Category 4 storm with wind speeds of up to 155 miles an hour. With a width stretching across some 400 miles, it is one of the most powerful storms on record in the Atlantic. There is no other storm on the planet as strong as this one right now. Irma is a beast and, as it stands, it's headed straight toward my hometown.
As a longtime resident of Florida, I've lived through several major hurricanes (Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan, Jeanne, Katrina and Wilma) and countless tropical storms. Severe weather this time of year is a fact of life for most Florida residents. Still, it's no less jarring or unsettling when you become aware that your life and all your worldly possessions are suddenly in harm's way.
For the last 72 hours, people have frantically boarded up their homes, filed into shelters, waited for hours at gas stations, bounced from store to store searching for supplies, listened to non-stop storm coverage and prayed for Irma to go back out to sea. As it stands, Irma is about twice the size of the Sunshine State, with the storm's eye spanning some 40 miles across.
Already, Irma has decimated the tiny island of Barbuda, wreaked havoc on the U.S. and British Virgin Islands and set off a panic in the Southeast United States. The stress is palpable. There's even a name for it: hurricane fatigue. But here's the thing: there's very little you can do in situations like this, except prepare.
After years of experiencing high stress situations just like this, here's how I learned to keep my cool when things get rough:
1. Worry about the things you can control.
No doubt, unexpected situations like a hurricane or stock market crash can be stressful. But it's important to stay calm when things that are out of your control, are out of control. It's helpful to focus on the things you can directly influence and go about taking care of those things.
We can't control the weather or other unexpected events, but we can control how we respond to those events. By making the necessary preparations, staying informed and doing what's needed to keep safe, you'll feel empowered and on top of things. And that helps keep fear and anxiety at bay.
2. Be kind to yourself.
It's easy to burn the candle at both ends in high stress situations. That helps no one. The only thing that does, is create burn out. So it's important to get proper rest, eat well and stay connected with friends and family who can provide emotional support.
Give yourself a mental break from whatever chaos might be swirling around you. You can take few minutes to meditate or practice gratitude.
It may sound touchy-feely but science has shown that mediation helps to clear your mind and reduce stress. That's critical if you want to make it through a high-stakes situation with your sanity intact.
3. Be prepared.
The best way to overcome a crisis is to be prepared. While the outcome may not be the one you want, at least you know you did everything possible that's within your control. There's no better tonic for hurricane fatigue (or really any form of crisis) than preparation.