How to cope in the aftermath of a traumatic event

There is no one “typical” reaction or “right” way to manage our distress after a traumatic event such as the recent Orlando shooting.  We may have many questions and struggle to find meaning, to understand why and how such a thing could happen.  Many feelings can arise in us such as shock, rage, sorrow, numbness, fear, anger, and disillusionment.  Some people may have trouble sleeping, focusing at work, or just getting through normal daily tasks.  There is no easy way “around” these emotions, no quick way to distract ourselves or forget.  Support from family, friends, and loved ones can help, and overtime, our emotions will typically become more manageable, allowing us to regain a sense of balance.

In the meantime, the American Psychological Association (APA) has created some tips for increasing our resilience (our ability to adapt in the face of adversity):

Talk about it.  Asking for support and help from family, friends, and loved ones can help you feel comfort and reassurance.  Talking to others who have shared your experience can help you feel less alone and different.

Strive for balance.  In the face of tragedy, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and have a negative or pessimistic outlook.  Remind yourself of people and events that are meaningful and encouraging.  Aiming for more balance is empowering and allows for a healthier perspective on yourself and the world around you.

Turn it off and take a break.  We want to stay informed, but being overexposed to trauma-related information through television, newspapers, magazines, the internet, and social media sites can actually increase our stress levels.  The images we see are very powerful and can re-trigger distress.  It can help to schedule some time to take a break from it all and distract yourself by doing something enjoyable.

Honor your feelings.  It’s normal to have a range of emotions after a traumatic incident.  You might experience intense stress similar to the effects of a physical injury.  For example, you could feel exhausted, sore or off balance.  Allow yourself to actually experience your emotions, and know that it’s ok to feel what you are feeling without pushing it out of your mind immediately.

Take care of yourself.  Engaging in healthy self-care can greatly increase our ability to cope with stress.  Eat well-balanced, regular meals, get enough rest and sleep, and try to incorporate physical activity into each day (this could mean taking a walk, yoga class, or other form of exercise).  Avoid alcohol and drugs; they work to “numb” our emotions in the short-term and leave us feeling worse in the long-run.  At other times, they can actually increase our emotional and physical pain.  Establish or try to keep to your regular routines such as eating meals, exercising, and sleeping.  If you are having trouble sleeping, try using relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or meditation.

Help others.  Find resources in your community or ways that you can help people who have been affected by the incident. Helping others often makes us 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 mean staying at home; for others it may mean getting back to your daily routine.  It’s normal to experience many ups and downs (even within the same hour or day).  Some people also experience “survivor guilt” (feeling bad that you escaped the tragedy while others did not).

If you (or someone you know) are experiencing difficulty managing intense reactions or emotions, or feel you are unable to function in your daily life (going to work, eating, sleeping, getting out of bed), it’s important to seek professional help from a counselor in your area.

For more information go to: http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/mass-shooting.aspx