Coping with distress after a tragic event
December 19, 2012
By Claudene Wharton
The American Psychological Association and Victoria Follette, chair of the psychology department, Foundation Professor, and a nationally recognized expert in trauma therapy, provide research-based information and recommendations that the campus community may find helpful at this time.
Possible reactions to traumatic events
It is not uncommon to experience a range of emotions, including shock, sorrow, numbness, fear, anger, disillusionment and grief. You may also notice problems sleeping, concentrating, eating and attending to normal daily tasks. Some people also notice a heightened sense that the world is a dangerous place. Finally, many people, although they experience initial sadness, will not experience prolonged distress.
How to cope with these reactions
- Talk to people about what you are feeling. Getting support from others can be comforting and reassuring and help to normalize your reactions.
- Look for balance in your life. Remind yourself of more positive experiences, such as people and events that are important and meaningful to you.
- Turn off the TV and computer, and take a break. While you want to keep informed, being over-exposed to news on the Internet or television can be overwhelming and increase your feelings of distress.
- Honor your feelings. It's common to have a wide range of emotions after a traumatic event and it's healthy to acknowledge them.
- Take care of yourself. Engage in healthy behaviors, such as eating nutritious meals, getting plenty of sleep and engaging in physical activity. Avoid using alcohol and drugs to numb your feelings or reduce your distress. Consider relaxation strategies such as deep breathing and meditation.
- Try to maintain your normal routine as much as possible.
- Be of service. Find ways to help others in your community or those who have been affected by the event.
- For people who have recently lost family or friends of their own, grieving is often a long process. Witnessing another tragic event such as the Sandy Hook school shooting may intensify those feelings of grief.
When to seek help
If you are feeling extreme distress that you are not able to manage, or your distress does not diminish over time, you should consult with your primary healthcare provider or a therapist about seeking additional support. There are also resources on campus:
- Counseling Services for students, (775)784-4648, Thompson Building, Room 202
- Psychological Services Center, (775) 784-6668, open to community-at-large by appointment
These offices can also refer people from the campus community to other resources in the community. Also, additional information on managing distress can be found at the American Psychological Association website. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network provides information on children's reactions and how to best help them manage their distress.
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