For many people, using the tips and strategies mentioned below may be sufficient to get through a traumatic incident. At times, however, an individual can get stuck or have difficulty managing intense reactions. It is important to get help if you feel like you are unable to function. For students, the college counselling centre may be able to help. For employees and dependents, the college Employee Assistance Plan may be a good place to start.
Dealing with a scary or difficult event may seem hard to imagine. Persevere and trust in your ability to get through the challenging days ahead even though things may feel incredibly intense in the days following a difficult event. Taking the steps outlined below can help you cope at this very difficult time.
Give yourself time to heal
Anticipate that this will be a difficult time in your life. Try to be patient with changes in your emotional state. Everyone is so different so don’t compare your way of reacting or healing to anyone else.
Ask for support
Ask for support from people who care about you and who will listen and empathize with your experience. Share your reactions, thoughts and how the experience impacted you. It often helps to speak with others who have shared your experience so you do not feel so different or alone. Your campus offers support services through its counselling centre. Keep in mind that your typical support system may be weakened if those who are close to you have also been impacted by the trauma. Remember that family and friends can be a major source of support during the recovery period. Ask other family members for help with parenting or other daily activities when you are upset or under stress. Don’t withdraw from seeking support just because you feel you might burden someone else. Most people do better after disasters with good support from others and most people are honoured that you would reach to them when you need a listening ear, someone to hang out with or someone to give you a good hug.
Strive for balance
When something difficult occurs, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and have a negative or pessimistic outlook. Balance that viewpoint by reminding yourself of people and events which are meaningful and comforting, even encouraging. Striving for balance can empower you and allow for a healthier perspective on yourself and the world around you.
Turn it off and take a break
You may want to keep informed, but try to limit the amount of news you take in whether it’s from the internet, television, radio, or newspapers. While getting the news informs you, being overexposed to it can actually increase your stress.
Schedule breaks to distract yourself from thinking about the incident and focus instead on something you enjoy. Try to do something that will lift your spirits by pursuing hobbies or other enjoyable activities.
Take care of yourself
Engage in healthy behaviors to enhance your ability to cope with excessive stress. Eat well-balanced meals, get plenty of rest, and build physical activity into your day. Many people find that time in nature helps them with settling their nervous system and feeling more peaceful. Establish or reestablish routines such as eating meals at regular times, following an exercise program, and going to sleep at the same time every day. If you are having trouble sleeping, try some relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga and avoid caffeinated beverages in the evening. Increase daytime exercise and relax before bedtime.
Avoid alcohol and drugs
Alcohol and drugs can suppress your feelings rather than help you to manage and lessen your distress. Alcohol and drugs may intensify your emotional or physical pain and can lead to problems with sleep, relationships, school, and physical health. Avoid too much sugar and caffeine.
Honor your feelings
Remember that it is common to have a range of emotions after a traumatic incident. Go easy on yourself and on your friends. Allow yourself to feel what you feel and for some people art or writing can help you let the emotions flow and can bring deeper understanding of what you are experiencing.
Communicate your experience or feelings
Communicate in whatever ways feel comfortable to you – such as talking with family or close friends, keeping a diary or journal, drawing, poetry, creating a collage, joining a support group, etc.
Focus on your projects, school assignments and other activities. Research indicates keeping focused on day to day required tasks or routines helps mitigate the effects of stress. Make short-term goals and plans to keep yourself focused and busy. Getting back to a more structured routine can help improve decision-making.
Help others or do something productive
Helping others who have been affected by the incident or who have other needs, even during your own time of distress, can give you a sense of control and can make you feel better about yourself. Try volunteering at your campus or within your community. Consider sending cards, emails or other support to those individuals directly impacted by the tragedy. Helping others can be a healthy way of managing your own feelings of powerlessness.
Avoid making major life decisions
Avoid making major life decisions such as switching careers or programs or dropping out of school, if possible, since such changes can be highly stressful. You are better off waiting until things settle down for yourself.
Give yourself time to experience your feelings and to recover
If you have recently lost friends in this or other tragedies, remember that grief is a long process. For some, this might involve staying at home; for others it may mean getting back to school or work. Dealing with the shock and trauma of such an event will take time. It is typical to expect many ups and downs, including “survivor guilt” – feeling bad that you escaped the tragedy while others did not.
Remember: reactions to traumatic incidents are normal responses to an abnormal experience
Remind yourself that your feelings are acceptable and you are not “going crazy”, and that you are not at fault for the trauma. When you are reminded of the event, try saying to yourself “I am upset because I am being reminded of the disaster, but it is different now because it is not happening and I am safe.” Remember that the symptoms will subside in time.
Remember: dealing with post trauma difficulties can shift your values
Dealing with post trauma difficulties increases your senses of courage, effectiveness and empowerment. Going through a disaster can have the positive effects of helping you determine what you value and what is really important in your life.