|Coping And Surviving Violent And Traumatic
Revised: May 31, 2013
In one violent or traumatic moment the world can become
unpredictable, dangerous and frightening. Injuries and accidents leave
a traumatic impression on those injured and the people closest to them.
Friends, loved ones and close
relationships may be lost. The aftermath of
such events can be felt throughout an entire town and across the country. When
tragedies are covered by the media, people everywhere can feel less safe. The
impacts can be be lasting and powerful for many who are involved.
Emergency services, health care professionals, volunteers, families and
other caring individuals can be traumatized by simply caring and helping
those who are most injured or traumatized. It is normal for
children, and even adults, to be sad, fearful, moody, upset, or even afraid to be alone
for months after a trauma. Entire families are affected. Accidents,
violence and other tragic events can affect a person or a
community's entire way of of life.
People respond differently in during and after a crisis
or a dangerous situation.
But everyone is changed in ways they may not yet realize. Some feel the brunt of the
experience immediately. Others appear to be strong or even numb to their experience.
Helping everyone express their thoughts and feelings in a safe and open
manner is one of the most positive
things you can do.
It is important for people who are affected to share what they think
and feel. A critical window of opportunity exists. Debriefing and discussing the
events within 72 hours of an incident can help insure that people recover and don't end up
becoming permanent psychological casualties. Both children and adults need to be
shown that their feelings are accepted and understood, and not just told that people
understand. Feelings should not be judged or punished, but it is
important that children understand the impact of negative behavior such as hurting others or neglecting
Many people have a tendency to rise to the
occasion during a crisis. After a traumatic episode, many people who
were involved will attempt to help others. They do this to feel better and to ease the
suffering of people they have compassion for. This can be a tremendous help, but it can
also serve to hide from personal trauma and pain. People who experience the greatest
trauma, and are busy helping everyone else, may be end up becoming the greatest casualty
Whatever the case, it is important to reassure
people that they are safe. Others may feel a sense of blame - as if they should have
known and acted to prevent the tragedy. The impact of a traumatic
experience doesn't end when people heal, nor does it simply end with the
passage of time. There are steps and things you can to that will help
For Survivors and Their FamilyIt is important to spend extra time with children at
Recognize that many people will feel guilty for surviving
and that listening is more important than telling people to stop feeling that way.
- Take time to talk about the events, especially when your thoughts and
- Talk with people who care about you.
- Contact friends when you need support.
- Be with someone, or if needed, have someone stay with you a few hours
- Maintain a normal schedule and routine as much as possible.
- Listen carefully. Ask if they need your advice. Don't take their
anger or other feelings personally.
- Show that you understand and you care.
- Offer your assistance and a listening ear.
- Reassure them they are O.K. and just be with them.
- Don't avoid regular activities, or spending time with people impacted
by traumatic events, but respect their need to be alone sometimes.
The Emotional Consequences
None of us are fully prepared to deal with violent
or traumatic events. We feel devastated whenever there is a loss, belongings or property
are destroyed, or there is serious injury or a loss of life. We are overwhelmed when our
children, friends, co-workers and loved-ones experience tragic, dangerous or life
threatening events. Older children tend to have many of the same symptoms of adults, while
very young children tend to talk more about stomach aches and other pains. Symptoms may
come and go. Many children can function very well in a crisis, but will eventually
experience some symptoms due to exhaustion and the effect of ongoing stress. Recognizing
and discussing our emotional and physical reactions, as well as ways to effectively cope
Common Stress Reactions Following a Violent EventAnxiety, fear, panic or anger
Depression, or worsening fear, panic or depression
Waking throughout the night
Nightmares or daydreaming
Exhaustion or mental fatigue
Change in appetite
Disbelief or denial of events
Reliving images of traumatic events
Dwelling on the event
Easily angered or upset
Accident proneness or problems concentrating
Increasing frustration or impatience
A tendency to isolate or withdraw
Neglecting or avoiding responsibilities
Fear or reluctance to be open or talk
Headaches, stomach aches, indigestion
Fear or reluctance to express emotions
Children return to bed wetting or messing
Episodes or outbursts of crying or sadness
Children acting younger or less responsible
Symptoms of Fear and PanicRapid heart beat
Rapid or faster breathing
Indigestion or stomach aches
Dizziness or feeling faint
Racing thoughts or poor memory
Sweating or perspiring
Dwelling on fearful possibilities
Trembling or "shaking"
Problems performing tasks
Afraid to be alone, or clinging
Symptoms of DepressionToo much or too little sleep
Significant increase or
decrease in appetite
Loss of interest or pleasure in others or most
Feeling discouraged or worthless
A significant drop in performance in school or at
Suicidal thoughts, feelings or self-harming behavior
Fatigue or loss of energy most of the time
Restlessness, fidgeting or pacing
Uncontrolled outbursts of crying
Feeling sad, helpless or hopeless most of the time
Episodes of fear, tension or anxiety
Frustration, irritability, emotional outbursts
Repeated physical complaints without pain in arms or
Abuse or increased use of alcohol or drugs
Steps You Need to Take if Symptoms are Severe
- Symptoms are usually significant when they interfere with
usual activities, change behavior in significant ways, or they persist for more than two
If you are unable to escape feelings of panic,
guilt, depression or stress, or these symptoms are extreme or prolonged, contact a mental
health provider for advice.
Seek help or advice from a qualified mental health
professional if a child or an adult begins thinking or feeling guilty or suicidal.
- Seek medical advice for any physical symptoms that are new,
especially if you are having health problems and have not had a medical evaluation for
Helpful Hints to RecoverySet a Healthy Example:
Taking care of yourself is a very important part of helping others. It sets a good
example, gives other people permission to take care of themselves and keeps you healthy
- Physical Activity:
Maintaining regular exercise greatly increases resistance to the stress reactions
associated with traumatic events and relieves the immediate symptoms of stress.
- Nutrition: Health studies
have shown that by moderating fats, sugar, caffeine, alcohol and smoking you can greatly
improve your resistance to stress reactions and promote recovery.
- Adequate Sleep: Try not to
nap when you would normally be awake. Go to bed when you are sleepy and when you would
normally sleep. Wake up when you normally would and try to avoid sleeping in. It is
important to keep a regular sleep schedule as much of as possible.
- Time Management: Try to
schedule your time and meet as many of your usual commitments and activities as possible,
Don't withdraw for an extended period of time. Avoid over extending yourself in your work
or new commitments for long periods. Repeatedly over extending yourself is not healthy if
you are doing it to avoid dealing with the emotional impact of the flood.
- Talk It Out: Reaching out to
friends or potential friends as a means of to establish supportive relationships can be a
tremendous help. Talk about your feelings and stress reaction with someone who is a good
listener, may have experience dealing with similar problems, and is most of all,
- Remember Breathing: People
under stress or experiencing panic unconsciously change their pattern of breathing. When
you feel stressed or panicked, take 4 to 5 slow deep breaths that let you inhale and
exhale completely. Relax your muscles as you exhale.
- Be Assertive: Use healthy and
effective communication skills that will let people know what you need or want. When you
deliberately ask for what you need, you are less likely to resort to blaming, becoming
frustrated or disappointed when people dont know what you need.
and following a crisis people cant remember or do everything they would like.
Forgiving yourself and expressing forgiveness to others is a key to recovery.
Be Open To Change Or Obtaining
Assistance: If your behavior or
emotional state are significantly changed by a violent event and does not improve after a
significant time (usually two weeks), seek help from a qualified mental health
- Take Time To Be Alone: Try to
spend some time or plan some time to be by yourself. Sometimes it helps to imagine quiet
places or pleasurable activities like vacations, relaxing or enjoying a hobby.
Spend time in a few simple activities that are fun or entertaining. Grieving takes time.
Copyright 1998 - 2000, Michael G. Conner
- Help Others: Helping others
can be a good way to feel better and recover. We all feel a need to be useful and to help
others, but dont help others all the time to avoid dealing with your own feelings.