Terrorism and Man-Made Disasters: Coping With This Week’s Trauma

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Some individuals are more vulnerable to serious stress reactions and lasting difficulty, including those with a history of:

  • Other traumatic experiences (such as severe accidents, abuse, assault, combat, etc.)
  • Chronic medical or mental illness
  • Chronic poverty, homelessness, unemployment, or discrimination
  • Recent or earlier major life stressors or emotional strain (such as divorce or job loss)

People affected by disasters should try to:

  • Focus on what’s most important to themselves and their families TODAY
  • Try to learn and understand what they and their loved ones are experiencing, to help remember what’s important
  • Understand personally what these experiences mean as a part of their lives, so that they will feel able to go on with their lives and even grow personally
  • Take care of themselves physically, including exercising regularly, eating well, and getting enough sleep, to reduce stress and prevent physical illness
  • Work together with others in their communities to improve conditions, reach out to persons who are marginalized or isolated, and otherwise promote recovery

How would I decide if I need professional help? If after the end of a disaster, these normal experiences do not slowly improve or if they worsen with time, it is helpful to find professional support:

  • Intrusive re-experiencing (terrifying memories, nightmares, or flashbacks)
  • Unsafe attempts to avoid disturbing memories (such as through substance abuse or alcohol)
  • Complete emotional numbing (unable to feel emotion, as if empty)
  • Extended hyperarousal (panic attacks, rage, extreme irritability, intense agitation, exaggerated startle response)
  • Severe anxiety (paralyzing worry, extreme helplessness)
  • Severe depression (loss of energy, interest, self-worth, or motivation)
  • Loss of meaning and hope
  • Sustained anger or rage
  • Dissociation (feeling unreal or outside oneself, as in a dream; having “blank” periods of time one cannot remember)

–International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS)

 

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