Coping With a Traumatic Event

In the wake of the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, provides tips for coping with trauma and loss.

Victims family leave a firehouse staging area following a shooting at the Sandy Hook School. (Photo: AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

Different people are affected by traumatic events differently. Most people will show signs of stress after the event, while it may take days, weeks or months for others to express their feelings. After a traumatic event such as the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, that left 20 children and seven adults dead, reactions such as increased anxiety, worry and anger can be normal.

The Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration offers these tips for managing stress:

Connect With Friends and Family
Check in with family members and friends to find out how they are coping. Feeling stressed, sad, upset are common reactions to life changing events. Recognize and pay attention to early warning signs of more serious distress. Your children, like you, will have reactions to this difficult situation; they too may feel fearful, angry, sad, worried and confused. Children will benefit from your talking with them on their level about what is happening, to get your reassurance, and to let them know that you and they will be OK and that you will all get through this together.

Take Care of Yourself and Each Other
Getting support from others, taking care of yourself by eating right, getting enough sleep, avoiding alcohol and drugs, and getting some exercise can help to manage and alleviate stress.
Know When to Seek Help
Depending on the situation, some people may develop depression, experience grief and anger, turn to alcohol or drugs, and even think about hurting themselves or others. The signs of serious problems include:
—excessive worry

—crying frequently

—an increase in irritability, anger and frequent arguing

—wanting to be alone most of the time

—feeling anxious or fearful, overwhelmed by sadness, confused

—having trouble thinking clearly and concentrating, and difficulty making decisions

—increased alcohol and/or substance use

—increased physical (aches, pains) complaints such as headaches

—trouble with your "nerves"
If these signs and symptoms continue (persist) and interfere with daily functioning, it is important to seek help for yourself or a loved one.

Tips for Coping With the Aftermath of a Traumatic Event:

Find Someone You Trust. Find supportive people (family members, friends, coworkers) and talk with them about your experience. Don’t carry this burden alone—share it with those who care about you.
Give Yourself Permission to Feel What You Are Feeling. Acknowledge your feelings as they arise. Remember you are having normal reactions and it takes time to heal.
Take Care of Yourself. Get enough rest and eat regularly. Keep up your exercise routine if you have one. Don’t abuse drugs or alcohol—they can hinder and delay recovery. Make your environment as pleasant as possible.

Know Your Limits. Avoid stressful situations for a while.
Practice Relaxation. Meditate if you know how, if not, visualize a quiet scene. You can’t always get away, but you can hold a vision in your mind—a quiet country scene for example, will temporarily take you out of the turmoil of a stressful situation.
Maintain as Normal a Schedule as Possible. Make as many daily decisions as possible. This will give you a feeling of control over your life. However, delay making major life decisions until your symptoms decrease significantly.
Take One Thing at a Time. For people under tension, an ordinary workload may suddenly seem overwhelming. This is a temporary condition and you can work through it, taking it one step at a time. Allow time for a task. Do each job more deliberately and thoughtfully.
Avoid Hazardous Activities. There is an increased likelihood of accidents.
Escape for a While. Sometimes it helps to temporarily get away—whether by taking a walk, immersing yourself in a novel or going to the movies. Escaping for a while may give you the chance to put things in perspective so that you can return more composed to better deal with the situation.

Know How to Find Help
It is important to seek professional help if you need it. If you or someone you care about needs help, you should contact your health care provider to get connected with trained and caring professionals. Mental Health Services Locator | Toll-Free: 1-800-789-2647 | Anyone in crisis or thinking about suicide should call SAMHSA's Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).


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