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How to Cope with Trauma

July 20, 2016

From San Bernardino to Dallas, Baton Rouge and Minneapolis, our country understands tragedy all too well.

Here in Orlando, we felt that collective grief no more intensely than on June 12, when a gunman entered Pulse nightclub and killed 49 innocent people — the worst mass shooting in modern American history.  

Aside from the fear, shock and disbelief that we usually feel after these tragic events, there’s also psychological trauma.

Even if you didn’t know anyone involved in these tragedies, watching them on television or reading information about them in the newspaper could make anyone wonder about the world we live in and how to deal with that reality. If you’ve experienced trauma from these events or any other events in your life, here are some helpful ways to cope.

Know that Everyone Reacts Differently

Every person won’t react the same after experiencing a trauma, and reactions may differ depending on the nature of the tragedy, whether it be a serious accident, natural disaster, terrorist attack or serious illness.

Some people may feel helpless, while others may be angry. Others may experience survivor’s guilt and wonder why they were spared and others weren’t. There’s no playbook for grief, so it’s ok if your response isn’t similar to someone else’s after a tragedy. 

Take Time and Be Patient with Yourself

After a tragedy, you may have difficulty sleeping, thinking or eating. You may wonder about the what-ifs and think there was something you could’ve done to prevent what happened. It’s also common to experience physical pain. However, it takes time to come to terms with a tragedy, and the grieving process often can be long. It’s ok to spend some time alone or with your closest friends and loved ones while you grieve. Taking time for yourself can help you deal with all the emotions you experience after something tragic happens. 

Seek Support

Tragedy often draws us closer to those we love. If you want to share your feelings, talk to family and friends who understand. Talking to a grief counselor or joining a grief support group also can help. There are plenty of online resources that list local support groups by city, state or zip code. Use them to find a group nearby that you can regularly meet with.

Avoid Things That Make the Grieving Process Worse

There’s nothing wrong with having intense, sometimes uncontrollable, emotion after a tragedy. However, internalizing these feelings can intensify your grief and make the healing process more difficult. 

It’s also a good idea not to overburden yourself with unnecessary tasks or things that can wait. If something needs to be done — whether it’s a household chore or errand running — ask a close friend or family member for help. 

Sometimes when people are grieving, they look for things that bring about temporary relief, like drugs or alcohol. These substances aren’t good for someone who isn’t grieving, and they’re even worse for someone who is. They can lead to depression or serious health problems, so avoid them at all cost and find solace in family support, a support group or other local or religious organizations of which you’re a member.

Get Professional Help, if Necessary

Sometimes professional help is necessary during the grieving process. Even though the people closest to you want to help, a doctor or therapist can offer professional advice borne out of his or her experience with hundreds (if not thousands) of patients who’ve faced similar circumstances. If you feel overwhelmed by grief or anxiety for a long period of time or feel increasingly isolated, it may be time to seek medical help. Your doctor can refer you to someone who specializes in dealing with traumas, and that professional can offer treatment that may include counseling or talk therapy. 

Unfortunately, tragedy is a part of life. When these things happen, we may ask why or get angry, but at the same time we also have to navigate the grieving process. It can be difficult, but by relying on family and friends or by seeking professional help when you need it, you can find a way to cope and eventually achieve some sense of normalcy again. 

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