Responding to Trauma and Loss
I originally compiled this list in response to the natural disasters of 2011. I offer it now with the intention that it might be helpful not only for such situations but also for the day-to-day events that cause us pain. If you or someone you know is currently going through a trauma or crisis, or connecting with the emotional impact of a previous event/s, here are some simple things that could help.
Ways to Take Care of Yourself
- Be kind to yourself and do whatever it takes to feel safe.
- Let people you trust know how you’re feeling and what you need. If you can’t talk about it, pick up a pen and write about it, or if you prefer; paint, draw or represent your feelings using the creative expression you most enjoy.
- Take one day at a time. Putting your life back together will take time and deserves your patience. Do your best to have realistic expectations of yourself, others, and the challenges before you. Often, that will require checking in with someone who can offer you an objective opinion.
- Take note and keep a Journal of all the milestones that strengthen you along the way, no matter how small.
- While the comfort of being with others is vital to your recovery, respect your own need for space and time out.
- Find a balance between doing things and taking the time to stop and let the reality of the situation sink in. As difficult as this is to do, it usually represents the beginning of the healing process!
- Sometimes you’ll feel strong and able to get on with the tasks before you. At others, you may have no choice but to drop your bundle. Remember… just allow yourself to be human! Once you’ve let go, you’ll feel so much better.
- Everyone responds to trauma and processes grief and loss differently. There is no right or wrong way, time, or order to go through this. Be patient with yourself! You’re not a textbook, and it is okay to do it in your own way.
- Find ways to shake the feelings out of your body and to ‘ground yourself’. Go for walks or runs, get into the gym, take salt baths or a swim in the ocean if possible. Remove your shoes and actually connect your feet with the earth. Get outside and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine on your face and body.
- Surround yourself with people and animals you trust and places you love to be.
- Listen to music, read or watch movies which inspire and uplift you, as well as give you a chance to just ‘let it all hang out’. Dance, sing, scream and shout if it leaves you feeling freer and more connected to who you really are.
Remember to breathe and especially, to exhale!
And above all… give yourself time!
Ways to Support Others
- Listen to people and allow them to express their feelings uninterrupted. This might be uncomfortable or unfamiliar to you, especially if you think that you have to do something to make them feel better or rescue them. By making time and truly being present with someone in pain, you are giving what they most need; to be heard and to feel understood.
- Put aside your expectations of how they might typically react or how you think you might respond in the same situation. Remember, crisis and loss are not our ordinary or everyday experience. No matter how prepared we may have been, our reactions and responses may be far more dramatic than anything we have previously felt or expressed.
- For most people, experiencing or witnessing a disaster or life-threatening situation leaves us feeling vulnerable and unable to control the circumstances around us. Be patient and mindful if you notice changes to their usual confidence &/or competence levels.
- Over time, it will be healthy for people to go through a range of emotions and coping strategies. While at first, the fact that they have survived may be enough to buoy their spirits, as the reality of the challenges before them in restoring their lives to normal hits home, it is understandable that they would experience the gamut of emotions. Remember… better out than locked inside.
- One day at a time, one problem at a time. Being able to prioritise is not something that comes easily to everyone, especially when the picture is so overwhelming. Getting life back on track may be a long and protracted task of having to accept that so much is out of their control. Give them reassurance and acknowledge their progress.
- Take care of yourself and be aware if youare feeling overwhelmed. Allow others to have the experience of regaining control of their own lives and their personal power by not doing for them what they can do for themselves. The most important thing we can offer others is a sense of possibility for the future and a belief in our ability to get through this together one step at a time.
- As we consider the many ways we can contribute to the healing process, remember… if you feel overwhelmed or at a loss as to what to do… stop, be still and breathe! If only for a few minutes, focus your attention on just being. For every person who shifts their energy from fear to love; from outward action to inner calm, to that degree, the problems before us will be solved with love and wisdom. Then… there will be much that we can do.
Please note this is a very general list of recommendations and in no way is to be taken as conclusive advice. If you or someone you know is struggling, please seek professional help where necessary, ASAP whether by phone or face to face. I also recommend you always have on hand one or two local numbers you can call in times of emergency.
Updated June 2019
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