Do you have tips for coping with tragedy?



Traumatic events of many kinds often leave individuals with a sense of increased vulnerability. There may be a loss of widely held beliefs such as “I am safe in the world,” “I’m in charge of what happens to me,” “Other people are basically good and can be trusted,” and so on. When these life assumptions are challenged, making sense of what happened and coping can be difficult.

A tragedy or critical incident is an event, or series of events, falling outside the realm of “normal” human experience in some way. Everyone reacts differently to critical incidents, but some common physical reactions include nausea, gastric distress, fatigue, racing heart, chest pain, strained breathing, shock symptoms, muscle cramps, headaches and chills. Emotional reactions may include anxiety, fear, sadness, guilt, denial, numbing, panic, apprehension, disturbed thoughts and anger. Cognitive reactions can include memory problems, poor attention, nightmares, intrusive images, hyper-alertness, disorientation, poor problem solving and decision making skills, rumination and disturbed sleep. Behavioral symptoms may include withdrawal, restlessness, emotional outbursts, increased alcohol use, avoidance, changes in speech, increased startle reflex, changes in appetite, blaming others and changes in attitude. Another normal reaction to a critical incident may be no reaction at all. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you are not alone.

To help cope with tragedy, consider these points:

·       Talk about what troubles you. Find a friend, clergy member, mentor, counselor or therapist with whom you can allow yourself to be open. Expressing your thoughts, feelings and reactions to an understanding, caring person can be helpful. Be sure the person you talk to can keep confidences and accept you for who you are. Avoid those who give too much advice.

·       Keep as much of your routine as possible. We tend to derive comfort from our routines. At times when life already feels disrupted, it is beneficial to keep from disrupting it any further. However, don’t try to force yourself to be jovial or carefree if you are still feeling subdued.

·       Limit watching TV and listening to the radio news. Although news programs can help us to know what is going on in the world around us, they can also bombard us with negative information that may increase our feelings of vulnerability.

·       Practice a systematic, drug-free method of relaxation. Breathing exercises, meditation, yoga and relaxation training can be beneficial during times of stress. They can be easily learned from trained professionals or from books and tapes.

·       Recognize when you are feeling overly stressed. Try to simplify your life as much as you can. Remember that significant chronic stress can lead to illness, accidents and diminished coping ability.

·       Get regular physical exercise. Exercise helps eliminate cortisol, a toxic stress by-product, from the body. Check with your physician if you are just starting an exercise program, and remember that you will be more likely to stay with an activity you enjoy rather than one you find uncomfortable or boring.

·       Maintain healthy nutrition. Stress sometimes makes us want to load up on foods with high fats and carbohydrates (ice cream, chips, etc.) While it’s okay to have some of these things, it is important, especially when stressed, to eat balanced, regular meals. You may want to consider moderate use of vitamins. The “B” vitamins are considered important for handling stress. Avoid overuse of caffeine and avoid nicotine. 

Posted on 30 Nov 2012

Tom Lee
Family & Consumer Science Program Leader & Department Head, Financial Management Specialist

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