‘Right’ Way to React To Traumatic Events


I, like many Americans with ties to Boston, have felt sad, angry, scared and many other emotions this week.

As I write this blog, police are conducting a manhunt for the second suspect in the fatal bombings at the Boston Marathon Monday.

worriedwomanNot every traumatic event affects the whole country. Most of the major tragedies you will experience in your life will be felt only by you and your loved ones.

Your house going into foreclosure. A serious car accident. An unexpected lay off. A family member’s serious illness.

Just because a traumatic event isn’t publicly know, does not make it any less serious or less important. And, a personal crisis is just as difficult to deal with as a public one.

Helpguide.org describes emotional and psychological trauma as “the result of extraordinarily stressful events that shatter your sense of security, making you feel helpless and vulnerable in a dangerous world. Any situation that leaves you feeling overwhelmed and alone can be traumatic, even if it doesn’t involve physical harm.”

A tragedy or traumatic event affects people differently.

Some signs that you are experiencing emotional trauma include:

  • Feeling disconnected or numb
  • Denial or disbelief
  • Feeling sad or hopeless
  • Anger
  • Irritability, mood swings
  • Guilt or shame
  • Fear or anxiety

In addition, you might have some of the physical reactions:

  • Being startled easily
  • Confusion, difficulty concentrating
  • Insomnia or nightmares
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Aches and pains
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle tension

All of these emotional and physical reactions to trauma are your NORMAL reaction to ABNORMAL events, says Helpguide.

What should you do to process or cope with a bad situation? Every incident is different. However, the first two steps for dealing with a trauma are often:

  1. Acknowledge what is happening and what you are feeling. Be realistic about what is going on and the effect it has on you. It’s easy to panic or think of worst-case scenarios, but try to stick to the facts before calmly moving forward.
  2. Talking to someone you trust about your feelings. Whether it is a loved one going through this situation with you or a confidant who can be objective, it is good to talk through what is happening and what you are feeling. Get another person’s perspective before you decide what to do – or not do.

Other steps in coping and processing:face-drawings

Stay in the present moment. “When you catch yourself re-living the horror, bring yourself back to the present moment by breathing deeply and feeling your feet,” says WikiHow.

Make big decisions when you are calm and have though things through. Do not make any “sudden moves” when you are feeling extremely angry, scared or sad.

Accept that things won’t “go back to normal” right away. Understand that you will feel uncertain about yourself and your world for a while.

Look for signs of hope, laughter and love. Our darkest moments can offer opportunities for building relationships, self-awareness and the goodness of Life.

Get informed. Find the facts about your situation instead of letting your imagination run wild. Be careful of information overload, however, and don’t get overwhelmed with too much information.

Take care of yourself. Your world has turned upside-down, yet it is good to keep eating regularly, get reasonable amounts of sleep, and take care of your hygiene and health.

Some traumas are too big or complex to handle on your own. The Royal College of Psychiatrists says to seek help from a doctor or professional counselor if you:

  • Have no one to talk or share your feeling with
  • Feel overwhelmed by sadness, anxiety, anger or depression
  • Have nightmares or cannot sleep
  • Are isolating yourself from people you like
  • Act angrily or are easily irritated by everyone around you
  • Cannot work or concentrate on tasks
  • Are drinking, smoking or using drug to cope with your feelings. Also, if you are eating too much or not enough over a long period of time.

If you cannot afford a professional counselor, look for free and low-cost services.

Remember that you are never alone, even during a private crisis.

If you don’t feel comfortable talking to people you know about what you are going through, you can reach out to support groups or others who have gone through similar situations. Find a counseling group, community organization, or online community related to the type of situation you are dealing with.

Related Resources:

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