Debriefing After Winter Storm Mara

February 13, 2023
A frozen branch and leaf under words that read "Debriefing After Winter Storm Mara"


The ice has melted from Winter Storm Mara earlier this month and yet just like the many tree branches in piles on our streets and by our homes, for many of us the impacts continue to linger.

If you’re feeling irritable, short on bandwidth, overwhelmed, or experiencing brain fog, fuzzy memory, a hard time making decisions, feeling disconnected from your work, or just malaise and off, these are common, normal responses to overwhelming events. Please be gentle with yourself.

Winter Storm Mara was different then winter weather events of the last few years because many UT staff were asked to work remotely in the midst of juggling stressors including not having childcare, power outages, and concerns about safety from cold, ice, power lines coming down, and falling trees. Our brains and bodies have been taking a bath in stress hormones for too long. Living through a pandemic for almost three years, racial trauma, and then an emergency weather, power, and water crisis, takes a toll on the nervous system.

In order to mobilize to respond to these numerous threats, our brains had to secrete the pituitary hormones that raise our cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine levels. When these stress hormones are in our bodies for lengthy periods of time, it commonly expresses itself in the symptoms named above. (Even if you and your family did not experience immediate dire circumstances during Winter Storm Mara, seeing others in pain and suffering through multiple crisis activates our stress response systems, too.)

It’s important to name too, that it’s not a short-coming or failure of resiliency to be experiencing symptoms. The symptoms are a result of our body protectively finding a way to cope with scary events and keep us safe. Our bodies are so very wise and are communicating with us.

It will take time and intentional care to help our bodies take in a felt sense of safety and help metabolize all the stress hormones floating around inside. One of the best things we can do for ourselves is to slow down to notice what is being communicated internally—what are we feeling, thinking and sensing in our bodies. When we tune in to what is going on in our inner world, we can then ask what might be needed to bear the intensity of the feeling—to offer care and look for ways to meet the need.

We’re all so uniquely wired, but some broad categories we might be needing are:

  • space for feeling
  • space for comfort or connection
  • space for action
  • space for distraction

For some of us we may need to move by walking, jogging or bicycling to help our bodies metabolize the stress hormones. For others it might look like engaging in breathwork, yoga nidra or meditation to help us rest and feel more grounded.

This free 30-minute yoga and meditation practice called “Yoga for After Disaster” is led by local Austin yoga teacher, Adriene Mishler. This gentle yoga practice of movement and breathwork may be a way to help our nervous system orient to safety and help our bodies begin to metabolize the overwhelm we have been through.

Connecting with trusted loved ones can help our body remember the world is and can be a safe place. Crying is a physical expression that can allow our body to release emotions. Creating something via art, writing or music might allow us to externalize what might be feeling difficult internally. Drinking extra water or using a weighted blanket can be supportive.

For some of us the crisis may not be over yet, so our protective stress response systems may still be online continuing to help us mobilize to meet challenges such as obtaining food to replace lost staples from our fridge or freezer, repairing our homes, finding a place to shower, or potentially even having to find new places to live. If we’re still in the crisis, even more gentleness and self-compassion can be a really helpful starting place to support our bodies and brains as we attend to our basic needs—drinking water, nourishing our bodies with food, helping ourselves have a safe and dry place to sleep.

Even though most of us are back to work now, it is everything but normal. We at the EAP are here and available if you’d like someone to listen or to talk through what resources you might be eligible for from the city, the county and/or through Staff Emergency Fund. You can reach out by phone at 512-471-3366 or email to schedule.