After the Storm – Facing Unexpected Adversity as We Age

by | Oct 1, 2017 | Senior Health | 0 comments

Adversity-as-We-Age

This summer, devastating hurricanes tore up the Caribbean, drenched Texas and chewed through the entire state of Florida. Harvey, Irma and Maria aren’t the newsmakers they were just weeks ago, but the effects of these storms have changed lives.

I survived Irma with only minor damage to my home and business. We’re cleaning up now. Chainsaws provide a satisfying white noise.

But my heart breaks for those returning to houses they can’t live in for months, or maybe ever. I am so, so sad for families who lost loved ones because most nursing homes do not have emergency generators.

There’s a lot of time to think as we haul debris to the road, adding to piles of branches that will line the streets for weeks. I’ve never been part of a disaster that touched every single person around me – every neighbor, every store worker, everyone young and old. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Exhaustion and Stress Are an Unhealthy Mix

Some disasters, like tornadoes, offer little – if any – warning. With hurricanes, there’s time to fret and to prepare. It’s a lot of work, and it gets harder as we get older. I’m starting to question if Florida, or any coastal area, is a good place for retirees.

Stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline kick in to help us get ready. But the sleep we need to shut these hormones off and recover is hard to come by. All we can do is wait – tired but wired.

Finally, the storm passes. But it’s time to go to work again. The need to be busy overpowers the need to sleep. Everyone has a wide-eyed stare, like a child who is too tired but won’t go to bed for fear of missing out.

As we age, our brains have a harder time regulating stress hormone levels. Stress also messes with our immune systems and the health of our cells.

While studies show that physically fit people release lower levels of stress hormones than inactive people, too much stress and too little rest are a dangerous combination for us all.

What we should do is stop and take time to meditate or do a yoga practice, like the ones offered by Sixty and Me. But we don’t. We soldier on, believing everything will be normal sooner if we just work harder.

Familiar Concepts Become Confusing

Time stalled as the storm came and went. What day was it anyway? Did I really miss 9/11 altogether? How could it be NFL Week… What happened to Week 1?

The storm messed with everyone’s routine and sense of time, especially when the power was out. I also noticed people had trouble counting money and finding the right words. Our muddled minds made the simplest things confusing. Everything was weird.

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