I was sort of prepared for Hurricane Irene to hit us in New Jersey. Had the flashlights all out. Got milk, eggs, bread, almond butter (kids with food allergies), candles and big heavy towels by the front door where it always leaks!
What I didn’t anticipate was all the anxiety and stress the uncertainty of Hurricane Irene would cause my 6-year-old daughter.
As the news media got feverish with the potential looming devastation of Hurricane Irene headed towards us on Saturday, my 6-year-old daughter got very nervous. She got quiet, wouldn’t want to eat anything and even cried a bit. Watching all the TV news stories made me nervous but seeing her so anxious was something I wasn’t prepared for.
And then the power went out! Somewhere between 8 and 9pm Saturday night, the lights went out and she got very nervous. She wouldn’t move. She didn’t know what was going to happen next. She sat crunched up in a little ball next to me on the sofa and didn’t say anything.
She wasn’t any better on Sunday. She was clearly nervous about what could potentially happen next even though most of the effect of Hurricane Irene was past us. My wife and I tried talking to her with logic, reason and some optimism: “We are going to get the lights back and everything will be fine. Don’t worry. You’re being silly. No need to cry – it’s just a little bit of wind and rain. Lights will be on soon. Your dad and I lived with no power growing up in India all the time. We went through weeks without power sometimes. It’s perfectly normal!!!!”
We were exhausted trying to be logical to a 6-year-old daughter who got more uncertain and nervous as the day went on.
It was about 7pm on that Sunday that I realized that my wife and I were wasting our time with reason when what our anxiety prone 6-year-old needed was a “distraction”.
Uncertain times call for….Katy Perry!!!
My daughters love Katy Perry. So in between checking the sump pump and if it was overflowing and the little leak by the front door, I took my kids to my car, opened the sunroof, opened the garage door and blasted her favorite song, “Firework” about 15 times.
Like most kids, they had never gotten a chance to stick their head out of the sunroof of a car. So this was a treat and they had a blast!!! It was so loud that I’m sure the neighbors could hear us but we didn’t care. We were trying to have a little fun during a tough time! We turned on other songs and they started dancing and really enjoying the moment. She forgot about the uncertainty of power outages, wind, rain and the rest.
Later in the evening as it got dark, I pulled out the best board game ever invented: Monopoly. It was a brand new set that we had gotten as a gift but never used. My daughter had never heard of it. And we played by flashlights and candles for a good hour or two. And then finally around 10pm Sunday night, our power was restored along with the beautiful smile of my 6-year-old daughter.
What I learned during this weekend was that like many, my daughter got fairly anxious and scared about what might happen during a hurricane. And it’s the not knowing part that is the toughest.
Having survived for such a long time, I think our human DNA is built to survive virtually anything. We can deal with leaky basements, fallen trees and even the 24 hour power outages. But when it comes to our calming our minds to feel less anxious – we are no different from children.
I believe that in order for us to feel good and less anxious during uncertain times such as a completely uncontrollable event like a hurricane, we need to “distract” ourselves about what could happen and take positive steps to focus us on the good in the here and now. And what’s great about it is that WE create the here and now. It’s up to us – to make a choice to embrace the chaos – and to take actions which help ground us to the present moment.
Being prepared with flashlights only helped me bring light to a dark home. Playing my daughter her favorite music in the car while she screamed in happiness out of the sunroof–helped me to bring her mind back from the negative thoughts of what could happen – to the good that is happening – right here, right now.