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How To And Traumatic Events

I live on a Caribbean island and I have been through Hurricane Hugo in 1989… my thoughts are going toward all the victims who were in the devastating path of Hurricane Matthew. My thoughts are also going toward my friends, my neighbors and my fellow human beings who have recently witnessed traumatic events.

Witnessing a traumatic event can affect us physically, emotionally and psychologically. I am sharing with you today what is normal to feel, how to go through these feelings and the some of the best ways to support people around you.

The impact of a traumatic event can linger for a few weeks. Below are some common feelings you may have after a traumatic event.

  • Continued thoughts and images of the event.
  • Wanting to stay away from the scene of the event associated with feeling of fear, sadness and/or anxiety.
  • Difficulty concentrating or feeling “dazed” or confused. Increased wandering around or just sitting and staring without direction.
  • Difficulty handling tasks or making decisions.
  • Feelings of anger and irritability.
  • Feelings of guilt or wishing you could have done something different.
  • Wanting to separate yourself from family or friends, feelings of withdrawal and sadness.
  • Physical feelings such as headaches or muscle aches, stomach ache or nausea, fatigue, change of appetite, nightmares and/or difficulty sleeping.
  • Using alcohol or drugs to numb your feelings.

It is important to recognize these feelings in you or in people around you.

  • Use your support system: choose a friend, your partner, family, someone who is willing and ready to listen to you. Talking is really helpful to release stress. It may feel uncomfortable at first but it may help you feel better faster.
  • Avoid using alcohol or drugs to change your mood.
  • Keep active. A little exercise such as a short walk will help physically and emotionally.
  • Eat well and get a good night sleep. It is important to stay healthy during times of stress.
  • Do something you enjoy. Spend time with your pets. Keep busy with hobbies. Get away to a spot where you feel your best. Listen to some music or write about the event and your reactions.
  • Lower your expectations of what you “should be doing” and nurture yourself. Eat healthy meals, sleep plenty and take a hot bath, practice relaxation exercises and deep breathing.
  • Keep as normal a schedule as possible and focus on what you can control instead of worrying about what is beyond your scope of control.
  • Talk to a counselor if and when your reactions are impacting your daily life. Talking is the number one healing force.

You can help others cope with their reactions by offering your genuine concern. Here are some examples:

  • Acknowledge the event. Say you are sorry about what happened and are sorry about their pain.
  • Remember you cannot take away pain. You can share it and help them feel less alone.
  • Listen and allow the person to share at his/her own pace. Understand that periods of silence can be healing.
  • Let your genuine concern and care show.
  • Ask “What do you need?” Offer solid, practical help such as cooking an occasional meal or watching the children.
  • Provide a place of safety. Lower your expectations of the individual for awhile.
  • Offer your companionship. Gently encourage physical activity. You may ask if the person wants to join you for a walk, etc…
  • Understand that the following are normal stress reactions: reduced concentration, withdrawal, sadness, guilt, anger or frustration.

You are not helping when:

  • Avoiding the person because you feel helpless, uncomfortable or don’t know what to say. Do not pretend nothing happened.
  • Offering false comfort. Avoid clichés like “Be brave”, “Time will heal”, or “You can on with your life”.
  • Asking intrusive questions or push for details. Don’t change the subject when he/she is talking about the event.
  • Assuming that a person’s spiritual/religious beliefs are the same as yours.
  • Offering advice if it has not been asked for. Avoid saying “you should…”
  • Being afraid of a show of emotion. Don’t discourage tears.

These helpful strategies were gained through personal experiences, professional training (Cigna insurance assistance program) and many years of counseling practice. Please, share your ways and helpful tips in time of stress after a traumatic event and stay safe!