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Coping in times of Extreme Collective Trauma

Published on 8th of August as a response to the 4th of August Beirut Explosion

Newt Gingrich once said, “Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.”

There are very few times across collective memory that have the ability to halt people and make them stand still. Most unfortunately these times are generally adversity oriented; they tend to bring people together in an effort to heal as a collective. Psychologically, we connect traumas. If you experience a new trauma before you've had enough time to heal from previous trauma, you may experience the separate events as related. This can lead to intensified symptoms and prolonged recovery time. As a result of multiple traumatic incidents, you may experience a greater sense of disconnectedness from yourself, others, and your work. People have the tendency to experience waves of emotions with different intensities depending on their personal proximity to the event. Experiencing any and all of these reactions is natural in the healing process

  • Denial, shock, numbness or feeling like you are not reacting

  • Confusion

  • Moodiness and irritability

  • Anxiety, worry, panic

  • Jumpiness, hyper-vigilance

  • Guilt

  • Feelings of helplessness, vulnerability and lack of safety

  • Sadness, depression and social withdrawal

  • Fatigue

  • Disturbing images or memories

  • Nausea, headaches

  • Difficulty concentrating and sleeping

  • Anger and blame of others.

Coping with these reactions

People can take steps to help themselves, family members and each other cope with stress reactions. Emotional resilience is an art of living that is entwined with self-belief, self-compassion, and enhanced cognition. It is the way through which we empower ourselves to perceive adversities as ‘temporary’ and keep evolving through the pain and sufferings. (Marano, 2003).

In a broad way, emotional resilience means bouncing back from a stressful encounter and not letting it affect our internal motivation. It is not a “bend but don’t break” trait, rather resilience is accepting the fact that ‘I am broken’ and continuing to grow with the broken pieces together.

  • Experience and talk about your thoughts and feelings

You have the right to have thoughts and feelings even if you were not directly affected and remind yourself you are normal and having normal reactions. People react in different ways to trauma, so don’t tell yourself (or anyone else) what you should be thinking, feeling, or doing. Even when the trauma is something that is being talked about publicly, it is important to talk to others about how you are affected. Talk to someone who feels safe to you. It may seem better in the moment to avoid experiencing your emotions, but they exist whether you’re paying attention to them or not. Even intense feelings will pass if you simply allow yourself to feel what you feel.

  • Take care of yourself

Take care of your body by watching what/how much you eat, your use of alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, sugar and medicine. Be sure to do some regular exercise and be more attentive when driving. If you have experienced a physical injury make sure you get medical attention as soon as possible.

  • Take time

Be good to yourself—spend time with people you care about and do things that make you feel better. Take breaks, schedule pleasant activities, engage in positive distracting activities such as sports, hobbies and reading.

  • Have empathy

Each person experiences trauma differently and that you and others may have different needs at different times, try to be flexible. Remember that when under stress you may not react in a manner you would normally expect.

  • Moderate your news intake

If the trauma is widely publicized, be mindful of how the media reports affect you. While having information is helpful for some calamities, some people may want to limit how much they read, listen to or watch the news.

  • Take action

While you do not want to make big life changes in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic event, find ways to express your thoughts and feelings about the trauma. Suggestions include political action, community service and spiritual practice to name a few.

  • Seek support

Stress reactions usually diminish in severity over time. However, if your symptoms persist, cause you excessive discomfort, or increase over time you may want to seek professional assistance. Seek out support from a friend or counselor to help restore your sense of order and control.

Our heart and thoughts are with our Lebanese brothers and sisters in this very difficult time



Photo credit "Shattered 2" by PhotoGraham is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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