Coping with the Stress of Trauma and Loss

People all over this country are feeling for our neighbors who are dealing with flood waters and loss of personal treasures, homes and pets. Like you, I have heard many stories from my clients, some of whom are going out of their way to help and some are unfortunate recipients. I still remember the horrors and stories we all heard after Katrina. Yes, folks from Louisiana are resilient but this is a good time to revisit our therapist’s Help Bag.

When working with flood victims, keep the following points in mind:

• Don’t encourage people to push the emotions away for the moment. In fact, help them feel the intense feelings. Surprisingly, they will pass on if you stop and really feel. Allow the tears and the anger to come out.

• On the other hand, avoid obsessively reliving the events on TV news and other venues.

• Focus instead on the “best next steps” for survival and recovery. Overcoming traumatic stress is all about getting busy and taking some action.

• When working on cleaning and clearing the mess, take frequent breaks to rest. Take some kind of short break (10 to 15 minutes) every 60 to 90 minutes. During those breaks, do some of the following things:

• Talk to another person, friend, neighbor, loved one. Even a brief exchange of kind words, friendly smile, funny comment can help relieve your stress and put the focus on another human being, not just you.

• Get some music going somewhere around you. Lively music can reboot your energy, help you feel more positive.

• Move around with some rhythm or even dancing.

• Take a moment to focus a “mindful minute” on your body. See where you are tired, injured, or just have tired muscles.

• Reach out to others and offer help. This may be the most important thing you can do. Small groups of like-minded people can magically accomplish things the individual is unable to do. Everyone brings novel thoughts and solutions to the situation.

• Ground your energy by sitting in a chair, placing your feet on the ground and visualizing a rainbow running through your body from the top of your head through your feet and into the ground.

• Get plenty of sleep. You cannot cope with anything when you are fatigued.

There are a number of local helping professionals trained to work with people who have suffered traumatic events and loss. If you are not one of them, help people in need find groups where they can express their feelings and exchange with others.

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