Flooding has already forced hundreds of Iowans to flee their homes. In addition to the physical challenges of moving personal belongings, Robin Zagurski, a clinical social worker and a behavioral health first responder, says the experience can also be a mental trial.
“The reason we tell people ahead of time is to help them prepare and know what to expect and to understand the reactions that they’re having are common,” Zagurski says. “Also, in a flood situation, the disaster actually starts before the flooding hits because people are preparing and anticipating what might happen.” She says emotions will run the gamut from anxiety to anger to sadness.
While some people will be moving in with friends or relatives for the time being, Iowans who wind up in shelters need to take particular precautions. “What we suggest that people do is that they continue to take care of themselves, that they get plenty of sleep, that they get good nutrition, that they keep a regular schedule as much as possible,” Zagurski says.
Just 20 minutes of aerobic exercise can help reduce anxiety, or try deep breaths. She also suggests crosswords, puzzles and Sudoku as a means of distraction. Many hundreds more Iowans may face evacuation in the coming days. Zagurski says everyone should give thought to the things they’d pack if there’s little time.
“We don’t like being away from our belongings, but think through what you need to take with you, what you would absolutely not want to lose,” she says. “Find somewhere to store that, not at the shelter, because it’s very hard to have personal space, locked up and secure, in a shelter situation.”
Remember, the situation is temporary, she reminds, and try not to plague yourself with questions that can’t be answered, like, how bad will the damage be or how long will the flood last? Get information from reputable sources and don’t give in to rumors. Zagurski works in the psychiatry department at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.