Coping With Trauma
Trauma and Healing
Although trauma affects people differently, such events as this week's terrorist attacks can create strong emotional and physical reactions. While reactions could appear almost immediately, they tend to occur hours, a few days, and sometimes even weeks later. It is common, in fact quite normal, for people to experience such reactions if they have experienced or witnessed a horrible event. The information below can be helpful- to know what kinds of reactions may occur, and how to help yourself and your children cope now.
Common Responses to Traumatic Events: These are some temporary reactions that may occur following serious events, and which may "come and go" with time.
- Shock, numbness, feeling "lost in a fog"
- Re-playing the images in your mind
- Anxiety, fear, or feeling helpless
- Irritability, Anger
- Extreme sadness
- Diminished concentration, lapses in memory
- Wanting to withdraw from others
- Difficulty sleeping, nightmares
- Hyper-arousal, "nervous energy", or easily startled
- Appetite changes
- Tightness in chest, difficulty breathing
Tips for Coping with the Aftermath of Traumatic Events
- Maintain as normal a schedule as possible, but don't "overdo"
- Realize that you may temporarily function below your normal pace and ability for a little while
- Spend time with others, talk to people, share your feelings, reach out
- Offer assistance in ways that help you combat feeling helpless (e.g. donate blood, food, donations)
- Maintain physical activities
- Get plenty of rest
- Continue healthy eating, and beware of trying to numb pain with overuse of alcohol and other drugs
Remember that these are normal reactions to traumatic events. Usually such reactions to traumatic events will lessen with time. However, if you are experiencing reactions that are intense and that persist, or interfere with your ability to carry on with your life in your usual manner, you may wish to seek help.
How to Help Your Children
Children react to trauma in different ways, much like adults do. The way children react often depends on their age, what information or images they have been exposed to, and how their parents and other important adults around them react. Children may feel overwhelmed by intense feelings, confused, and not know how to deal with this. Child experts state that the parents' attitudes and reactions will be the single most powerful factor in helping their children cope.
Here are some ways in which parents may help their children:
Young children under the age of 7 should be protected as much as possible from news of the events. This is so excessive worry and anxiety is not created in the first place. Although it may not be possible to completely shelter them, it would be helpful to minimize their exposure to the details of the events. This means young children should not watch television coverage, or hear radio reports, or listen to adults talking about the traumas and their aftermath.
For slightly older children, say 8-12, parents may not be able to shelter them from as much. However, you can limit the amount of television coverage your child sees, and watch together.
If you talk about the event, be honest and keep discussion brief. Wait to see what questions your children may have before giving additional information, as they may only want to know "so much."
Parents and others need to provide reassurance to these children that horrible events like these are extremely rare, and convey a sense of security. Let them know you are there to take care of them, and reassure them that they are safe.
Maintain normal routines and schedules as much as possible. These routines help children feel comfortable and secure.
Acknowledge that these kinds of events can create all sorts of feelings. Tell your child it's normal to feel worried, sad, and upset. Let your child know it's OK to talk about their feelings, and be patient as they do.
Provide "extra" loving, attention, and understanding if your child expresses feelings through behavior, like crying, being clingy, fearful, having nightmares. If these occur, are particularly intense and don't improve within a week or two, you should consider consulting their pediatrician or other professional.