Stirred up by Irma: 4 Insights from the Storm

Hurricane Irma stirred up more than just warm Atlantic sea water. Intense emotions continue to whirl around Miami. Just a few days ago it was utter horror, panic and angst thinking about the catastrophe a Category 5 hurricane hit would be for South Florida. This week, emotions are more diverse; frustration and annoyance with power outages, compassion for less fortunate hurricane survivors, gratitude for life (and light), return of chronic boredom, it’s a mixed bag.

Crisis transforms.

Natural disasters are transformative. Not only can they drastically change landscapes, literally in a matter of hours, natural disasters can also transform people. The threat and encounter of a powerful phenomenon can cause individuals to question and fear for safety. Naturally such predicaments can make you gain new insights. Insights are nothing more than deeper understandings of a situation.”Intuitive-like insights” may just well up from an invisible reservoir, especially during challenging life situations. Insight propels change. When you see situations from a different perspective, people are challenged to consider change.

Below are four insights that Hurricane Irma brought up for many. Maybe they will resonate with you, even if you have never encountered weather conditions of a natural disaster. Read on to reflect, if you wish.

Less is more

Storm prepping costs people time, effort and even lots of money. Storm prepping also makes you step into a thought space where you begin to have questions you never had to think about before. Such as: “what essentials do I need to take with me in case of an emergency?”, “which prized possessions do I have to safe guard against damage?”, “how will I recover if I have major losses?”. Having to think about prized material possessions may ultimately lead to concluding that ‘less is really more’. People work hard to earn and own material items and to be proud of such possessions is perfectly fine. To grieve the loss of property or personal belongings is also very normal. Yet at the end of the day most people will agree that the safety of their loved ones will always have greater value than any material possession. This insight, in the context of a looming hurricane may also make individuals become aware of their own “excess”. “How did I accumulate so much stuff?”. Will this insight influence consumer habits? Possibly. Will it be a lasting change? Probably not.

No such things as over preparation

Water shoes and floaters for the kids in case of flood? Check (I swear). Water reserves for days? Check. Cash n’ gas? Check check. There were all sorts of storm-prep rituals and lists going on in South Florida last week. No judgement. There is no such thing as over preparation. Preparation provides us with a sense of control, an imagined extra layering of safety. No one can truly prepare enough for a natural disaster, too many uncertain variables. However, in many cases, thorough storm preparation has saved hundreds of dollars in potential damage and most importantly, kept people relatively safe. Accepting that the nature of a natural disaster will be completely unpredictable and that you will have no control of it, coupled with the peace of mind of “over preparation” is a nice balance.

Anxiety is the real deal and media knows how to exacerbate it

For Miami residents who survived Hurricane Andrew, particularly in the South Dade area, Hurricane Irma washed up intense anxiety and memories. Chest pains, troubled sleep, thoughts of fear, for anyone who has never dealt with anxiety issues, this past week South Florida may have come across very real anxiety-like symptoms. As a clinician, I was reminded that one does not need to meet text book criteria for PTSD for a hurricane threat to trigger traumatic memories and anxiety. Even if Hurricane Irma was someone’s first ‘hurricane experience’, the news forecast was grim and plenty of people were worried. Anxiety and ‘los nervios’ were at an all time high for some. The solution: One deep breath a time, prayer if you are a believer or positive thoughts and minimize your consumption of news media. People with more selective attention of weather news bulletins seemed more composed and calm. Stay informed but don’t saturate your nervous system with all the fear ridden noise from the news media.

Seek the goodness and it will find you

The outpouring of good Samaritans who have sought out to help ‘thy neighbors’ has been astonishing. And beautiful to say the least. My neighborhood was nothing short of Troll Village during the storm aftermath. Everyone collectively joining to clear streets, remove debris etc. People with tools pulling over their cars to assist someone else. Volunteerism. Donation drop off sites in abundance. This wave, best described as a desire to help or serve others, is a great great sign. Did you know that production of “feel good” brain chemicals such as Serotonin, Dopamine, Oxytocin, are stimulated when we help others? Did you know that many chemical addiction recovery programs, in the absence of mind altering toxic substances, encourage fellowship and community service to sustain sobriety? In the wake of a natural disaster, or any crisis, you will often find more people acting good or doing good. Seek that goodness if you can. Its addictive, or at least thats what neuroscience tells us. It’s a good kind of addiction and the insight of knowing that such goodness exists will often lead people to continue seeking other opportunities to serve… way beyond after this Hurricane Irma craze dies down.


I am certain in other moments of your life, these insights, particularly if you have ever dealt with a crisis, have been a similar experience. Normalcy in Miami will take some time. Luckily, Miami was spared the brunt of the storm and for that I am thankful. Please send positive loving thoughts or prayers to the communities severely impacted by Hurricane Irma’s fury. If you are interested in donating goods, money or volunteer time, check out this link by the Sun Sentinel. You can also check out The Miami Foundation’s website for more relief effort opportunities, on this link. Miami’s The New Tropic page also has plenty of useful forthcoming info, check them out here. Keep the good vibes going!

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