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On Our Minds is the name of KERA's mental health news initiative. The station began focusing on the issue in 2013, after the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Coverage is funded in part by the Donna Wilhelm Family Fund and Cigna.

'It's not just a cold day': Texas therapist says anxiety over winter storm is normal

A winding, icy road is framed by bare trees, a school sign and speed limit light in the corners.
Elena Rivera
/
KERA News
Schools, businesses and many city departments have shut down for Thursday and Friday due to wintry conditions, making roads icy and tough to navigate. Last February, the storm left many Texans without power or heat, leading to hundreds of deaths across the state.

For many Texans, the memories of last year's devastating February storm are still vivid. A North Texas therapist provides tips on how to emotionally manage the next few snowy days.

Over the past few days, Devon Estes has seen how the impending winter storm affected people.

"People are mass purchasing things all over again, stockpiling things," Estes said. "I'm thinking we're going to be in the house for a day, day and a half, and shelves were completely empty. I was in Home Depot and heard a guy looking for a generator that ran on propane."

Estes is a Dallas-based therapist who sees clients for anxiety, depression and trauma-related issues. She said these behaviors speak to people's paranoia, and how scary the storm was for everyone.

"This is very interesting, because everyone's already heightened," Estes said. "This is a layered situation. We're still in the middle of a pandemic. I think we're seeing a lot of that same panic behavior, that survival mode."

During trauma screenings she and other colleagues give, one of the first questions is about natural disasters, which are traumatic and disruptive events. Estes said anxiety, irritability, changes in eating or sleeping, and difficulty concentrating can all be responses to trauma. She uses Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) with clients, both of which help people change their mindset and behaviors with challenging feelings.

One skill she recommends is called "Opposite Action," which is essentially doing something that's the opposite of what a person is feeling.

"If you're feeling anxious, do something that makes you feel calm," said Estes. "If you're angry or irritable, do something that maybe increases your joy."

She said that can be anything from grounding activities, like meditation, to cuddling up with a pet or warm blanket.

Overall, it's important to keep in mind that while the storm may pass in a few days, feeling upset or anxious is completely valid.

"There's just a lot going on for folks," Estes said. "It's really important for us to be more empathetic, because it's not just a cold day."

Estes also recommends reaching out to friends, family or a therapist to connect and talk through concerns.

Got a tip? Email Elena Rivera at erivera@kera.org. You can follow Elena on Twitter @elenaiswriting.

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