Colorado Shootings and Trauma; Tips to Cope With Tragedy

Upon wakening today, many of us saw the horrific news that at least 12 people, and perhaps as many as 50 others were wounded while watching the latest “Batman” movie.  According to multiple news reports, the movie had only been playing for about 20 minutes, when a gas-masked gunman threw some sort of smoke grenade, and then began shooting innocent people. What can we do in the face of such horror? Here are a few tips for dealing with trauma and tragedy, once the immediate danger has cleared.

1. When in a safe place, relax: Relaxing doesn’t mean having a drink or some other mind altering substance. Relaxing means either being with people if that relaxes you, or going to a quiet place and allowing the shock and emotions to bubble up to the surface. Using a substance to “relax” will only complicate and delay dealing with the trauma.

2. Talk about it: It doesn’t matter if your loved ones have heard the story 20 times, it is important to talk about it until you have talked about it enough for you, though you may look for more than one person to share the experience with. Friends, support groups, and/or faith based groups can be some good options. Holding it in can make a person’s trauma reactions worse.

3. Express yourself: Express yourself in an appropriate manner, however you like. Maybe you’ll need to write about your experience in a blog, article, or journal. Maybe you will create art which represents your experience or your reactions to it. However you choose to express yourself, it is important, like talking about it, to allow your expressions to come out of you.

4. Exercise: Physical exercise can be immensely helpful and people may experience relief from exercise. Exercise can literally work stress hormones out from the body. Reduction in stress hormones can help a person feel more relaxed and calm. Someone may want to exercise multiple times in one day in order to keep the stress hormone at bay. (Note: Please visit your doctor first if you are not used to vigorous exercise.)

5. Handle trauma at your own pace: Everyone is different. There are people who will experience trauma and appear “fine” immediately afterwards. Others will be mildly affected. There will also be those who are tremendously impacted. It is important not to compare your response to trauma with another person. We are each unique people with different ways of responding and coping. Comparing your trauma reactions to someone else may make you feel worse.

When working with clients who have experienced trauma, I like to suggest to them to act as if they have the flu; get plenty of rest, drink plenty of liquids, and cut yourself some slack when you just are not up to doing your usual routine. We give each other grace when we are sick, and I would encourage those who are dealing with tragedy and trauma to give themselves grace. Healing will come, and it will take some time. If someone’s reaction to trauma is beyond these tips, please consider seeing a professional for assistance. There are medical doctors and counselors who are trained in how to help people suffering from intense traumatic reactions. Some additional resources are listed below.

United States Department for Veterans Affairs: http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/pages/treatment-ptsd.asp

National Institute of Mental Health: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/helping-children-and-adolescents-cope-with-violence-and-disasters-rescue-workers/what-is-trauma.shtml

National Alliance for Mental Illness: http://www.nami.org/

About the author: Laura Peddie-Bravo is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Nationally Certified Counselor for over ten years. She has worked extensively with victims of physical and sexual abuse, victims of crime, and more.  You may schedule a free 15 minute complimentary call by phoning 407-222-6239.

You can also connect with Laura via Facebook and Twitter @LPBShrink

All or portions of this article may be reprinted as long as the author’s name and contact information remain intact.

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