How to Cope after a Traumatic Event

coping with tragedy.jpg

When tragedy strikes and your life is forever changed in an instant, you might feel hopeless but there are some steps that may help you. Everyone reacts to trauma differently. You may not feel like doing anything at all and that is ok, for a little while. It is important that you take steps to dig yourself out of the numbness, rage, or depression.

You may experience some of the symptoms below:

Shock: feeling numb or disbelief is the brain’s natural defense to protect you from the trauma.

Suffering: this is the period of grief during which you gradually come to terms with the reality of the tragic event or loss and the pain takes over the numbness.

Sadness: what you are experiencing is extremely sad and it is natural to feel empty, lonely, or like there is no hope or end to the sadness.

Anger: is a common response to feeling powerless, frustrated, or even abandoned. Acknowledge your anger and let it be ok to feel angry for awhile.

Anxiety: it is normal to feel anxious, scared or on-edge after a life-altering event.

Recovering from such a tragic event may seem difficult to imagine. Persevere and trust in your ability to get through the challenging days ahead. Taking the steps in this guide from the American Psychological Association can help you cope at this very difficult time.

  • Talk about it. Ask for support from people who care about you and who will listen to your concerns. Receiving support and care can be comforting and reassuring. It often helps to speak with others who have shared your experience so you do not feel so different or alone.
  • Strive for balance. When a tragedy occurs, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and have a negative or pessimistic outlook. Balance that viewpoint by reminding yourself of people and events which are meaningful and comforting, even encouraging. Striving for balance empowers you and allows for a healthier perspective on yourself and the world around you.
  • Turn it off and take a break. You may want to keep informed, but try to limit the amount of news you take in whether it’s from the Internet, television, newspapers or magazines. While getting the news informs you, being overexposed to it can actually increase your stress. The images can be very powerful in reawakening your feeling of distress. Also, schedule some breaks to distract yourself from thinking about the incident and focus instead on something you enjoy. Try to do something that will lift your spirits.
  • Honor your feelings. Remember that it is common to have a range of emotions after a traumatic incident. You may experience intense stress similar to the effects of a physical injury. For example, you may feel exhausted, sore or off balance.
  • Take care of yourself. Engage in healthy behaviors to enhance your ability to cope with excessive stress. Eat well-balanced meals, get plenty of rest and build physical activity into your day. Avoid alcohol and drugs because they can suppress your feelings rather than help you to manage and lessen your distress. In addition, alcohol and drugs may intensify your emotional or physical pain. Establish or re-establish routines such as eating meals at regular times and following an exercise program. If you are having trouble sleeping, try some relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation or yoga.
  • Help others or do something productive. Locate resources in your community on ways that you can help people who have been affected by this incident, or have other needs. Helping someone else often has the benefit of making you feel better, too.
  • If you have recently lost friends or family in this or other tragedies. Remember that grief is a long process. Give yourself time to experience your feelings and to recover. For some, this might involve staying at home; for others, it may mean getting back to your daily routine. Dealing with the shock and trauma of such an event will take time. It is typical to expect many ups and downs, including "survivor guilt" — feeling bad that you escaped the tragedy while others did not.

If the grief persists, becomes more intense or you have feelings that life isn’t worth living please seek professional help or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline 800-273-8255, and be sure to tell people that are closest to you.

For parents who want to know how to talk to their kids about a tragic event, here is a good article which cites Dr. Deborah Gilboa, parenting expert. The article is specific to gun shootings but the information can be used for any tragic event.

For advice on helping a friend cope with a tragedy, here is an article by Grief Specialist, Lisa Athan from Grief Speaks.

What has helped me is to allow myself time to cry, hot baths, music I love, and getting out in nature. I will lay in bed for hours but at some point, I force myself to go outside even if it is just to the front yard to water my plants. Petting my dogs and taking them for a walk also helps. The pain may sneak up at any moment and when it does, I start the self-care process all over. There is no right or wrong way and you have to find what works for you but the key is to ask for help when it becomes too much. It is always ok to ask for help!