Caring for Yourself

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Impact of a stressful and traumatic event on emotions

It can challenge a person’s sense of safety and predictability, and trigger strong psychological and physiological responses. Such reactions are normal.

Psychological responses

There are various different reactions to the situation. You may feel all of them (in sequence) or two or more feelings at a time.

  1. You may be in shock or feel stunned
  2. You may also feel numb and cut off from the fear
  3. You may feel fear and deep sorrow, uncertainty and helplessness
  4. You may feel confused, not able to think well, not able to concentrate, forgetful or faced difficulties in problem-solving
  5. You may feel depressed, exhausted, unable to rest and wanting to withdraw
  6. All these feelings are normal if they don’t last for an extended period of time
  7. You may feel agitated, anxious, hyper-alert and hyper-vigilant (‘on guard’), easily irritated and unable to control your emotions
    • Engaging in activities and creative expression can promote calmness
    • And so does spending more time with family members and friends
  8. You may become more suspicious and paranoid (e.g. over-cleaning). You may be feel intense anger and can become very critical and blame everyone
    • It is important to talk to friends and get a “reality check” on our perspective and to not engage in any act that we’ll regret later
  9. If your children are affected
    • They can become ‘clingy’ and have nightmares
    • They may have stomach-aches and headaches
    • Alternatively, they may act out aggressively. This is normal. It might last a few days or more but it will pass
    • They need to be reassured and made to feel protected

Physiological responses

It is natural to have a physical reaction to traumatic stress. The symptoms may be diverse, they can occur constantly, in clusters or come and go. Be aware and accept that these symptoms as signs of  ‘activation’:
  • Examples: heart beating faster, blood pressure going up, stomach tightening, knot in the throat, muscles tremors, cold skin and racing thoughts
  • These reactions will dissipate or go away if we don’t fight them
Your sleeping may be impacted or you may experience increased urges to overeat or engage in addictive behaviours such as excessive use of alcohol or drugs.
  • The best ‘antidote’ is to try to be aware of those and other impulses
  • Self acceptance – to accept that you are deeply upset and that it will pass
Reactivation of unresolved traumas (e.g. past SARS)
  • Your sense of safety and trust may get shaken
  • Remind yourself of your actual age and today’s date and place. It may help you get situated in the here and now

Helpful responses

Understand that our body has an innate ability to regain its balance the "reactive" or over-stimulate self.

Allow for “natural discharge,” as your body is coming back into balance, e.g.

  • Trembling, shaking, warmth in the body
  • Vibrating or sweating
  • Stomach gurgling, burping or release of gas
  • Deep breathing, goose pimples
  • Crying or laughing

Observe what’s happening in our body without judgment. Give the body time to do what it wants to do and allow your body to do what it needs to do.

If you are feeling disoriented, confused, upset and in disbelief, you can try the following exercises.

Exercise 1: Staying grounded

  1. Sit on a chair, feel your feet on the ground, press on your thighs, feel your behind on the seat, and your back supported by the chair; look around you and pick six objects that have red or blue
  2. This should allow you to feel in the present, more grounded and in your body
  3. Notice how your breath gets deeper and calmer
  4. You may want to go outdoors and find a peaceful place to sit on the grass
  5. As you do, feel how your bottom can be held and supported by the ground

Exercise 2: Sensing your body

This exercise will help you sense your body, as a “container” to hold your feelings.

  1. Gently pat the different parts of your body with your hand, with a loose wrist
  2. Your body may feel more tingling, more alive, sharp
  3. You may feel more connected to your feelings

Exercise 3: Balancing exercise

This exercise may help you or your loved one feel more balanced

  1. Tense your muscles, each group at a time
  2. Hold your shoulders with arms across your chest, tighten your grip on them and pat your arms up and down
  3. Do the same with your legs, tighten them and hold them from the outside, patting through their length
  4. Tighten your back, tighten your front, and then gently release the tension

Helpful responses – other useful tips

Sports, aerobics and weight training help avoid depression and are a good channel for aggression. If you believe in prayer or in some sort of greater power:

  1. Pray for rest for the souls of the dead, for the healing of the sick, for strength and consolation for the grieving
  2. Pray for peace, understanding and wisdom and for the forces of goodness to prevail
  3. Do not give up faith in the ultimate goodness of being and keep your trust in humanity

Dos and don’ts to cope with stressful and traumatic events

Useful tips to cope with stressful and traumatic events

Watch the news for a limited time to get the information you need and then turn off the TV, radio or social media

  • Limit news checking to every two hours to get more details
  • Do not get hooked on the repetitive traumatic images that the TV or social media is showing
  • These images can keep us glued to the screen & make us feel worse after
  • Resist the pull to watch or read

Don’t be isolated

  • Get together with family and friends and support each other
  • The understanding and support of our loved ones helps us cope with stressors much faster
  • It is crucial to validate the feelings of fear and helplessness of others, even if we are coping better than they are

Seek professional help if your reaction feels too strong to handle on your own or with your friends. It doesn’t mean you are crazy or weak.

Keep busy and have as structured a schedule as possible to help you stay grounded.

Continue to focus on your resources, anything that helps you feel calmer, stronger and more grounded

  • Do things that keep your mind occupied, such as watching a movie, knitting, cooking, playing with children or pets, gardening or being in nature

Write or doodle your sensations, feelings and thoughts

  • It has been shown that writing assists in discharging anxiety and helps to regain control

Get sufficient rest. Our tendency is to run on adrenaline and exhaust our bodies.

Encourage yourself and others not to tell their stories in a repetitive way. This can deepen the trauma. Instead, listen to each other’s accounts of the event with interruptions of the story from beginning to end

  • It will help process feelings without being overwhelmed and help you get out of obsessive thinking
  • Allow yourself negative feelings. Anger, rage and the desire for revenge are very natural responses to such traumatic and stressful events
  • Feel your feelings and allow your emotions to be expressed in a rational framework

Don’t blame yourself for negative feelings, but make sure your actions are positive and productive.

Stay active and volunteer to help your colleagues if appropriate

  • Help traumatised colleagues by listening to them without judgment, by not taking it personally if they are angry or blaming, or by giving them private time
  • You can also connect them to our Peer Support for further help

Next up: Regulating Strong Emotions

Ref : L20