Coping with Traumatic Events


Originally published by Employee Assistance Program (EAP Assist) on 13th December 2021 and republished with permission. https://eapassist.com.au/eap-assist/coping-with-traumatic-events/

Emotional responses of witnessing and experiencing disasters, mass violence and traumatic events can vary from person to person. There is no right or wrong way to feel. Common reactions include disbelief and shock, feelings of fear, anxiety guilt, anger, hopelessness, difficulty concentrating, trouble sleeping, changes in eating habits, and disruptions in the ability to tend to daily tasks and responsibilities. Here are 6 ways to manage the unsettled feelings and reduce the risk of psychological difficulties that may arise.

1. Take stock of your media consumption. While it is natural to want to understand what happened, how this could happen, and what one can do, the availability of 24-7 news and social media increases exposure to unnecessary images, rumours, and unhelpful posts It is important to try to get information from reliable sources but avoid overexposure to the news and media. Take a break from watching and listening to the news and/or scrolling social media.

2. Acknowledge your feelings. Take stock, gauge what you are experiencing and try to label the emotions. Rather than getting pulled into your feelings or trying to distract/avoid the feelings, experience and acknowledge them.

3. Practice deep breathing and mindfulness. Learning to slow down your breathing, paying attention to slowly exhalating. Research shows that this can slow down the sympathetic nervous system’s activation which is responsible for the “fight, flight or flee” response. Mindfulness allows you to redirect your focus on a neutral anchor rather than getting pulled into the images, the “what ifs,” and unhelpful ruminations and emotions.

4. Tend to your physical well-being. The reason this tip comes up over and over again is that it is very important. Feeling physically well will help you to think clearer and handle daily hassles, life events, as well as unexpected, unpleasant ones more effectively. This includes eating balanced meals, staying hydrated and physically active, and getting good enough sleep.

5. Stay connected to friends and family. But rather than participating in co-rumination, where both parties rehash these events in unhelpful ways, try to find more positive things to focus on. Take stock of what is present, real and good in your lives.

6. Avoid using drugs, alcohol, or substances. Although substances may provide short term relief/distraction, they replace healthier coping options and are more likely to lead to additional problems.

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