Ideas for coping and regaining perspective in light of Tuesday’s tragedies
For perspective in dealing with the tragic events of Sept. 11, the Counseling Center has compiled some thoughts, identified reactions to stress, and offered some suggestions for helping members of the University community to understand and deal with their emotions.
“We are all in the midst of dealing with an incredibly traumatic event,” says Rebecca S. Dayton, director of the Counseling Center. “We will all need to be part of the healing experience for each other.”
- A crisis situation is one in which an individual’s typical coping responses do not work or may be less effective than usual.
- Each person’s response to a crisis is very individualized. We must be careful not to judge another’s response, especially if it is different from our own.
- The thoughts, feelings and behaviors experienced may be in response to the event at hand, as well as previous (and potentially unresolved) events from the past. Previous losses often are triggered by current ones.
- A sense of anxiety and panic would be absolutely predictable in response to recent events. There is so much we don’t know; trying to find answers to explain such a tragedy is normal. Without available explanations, the attempt to find answers may take on a flavor of desperation and seem frantic in nature. We can help by allowing people to identify and discharge all the questions, fears and uncertainties going through their heads. It’s important to validate the concerns rather than talk people out of them. Remember, in crisis situations some people may not respond in their typical, rational way.
- In crisis situations, we can help people by engaging in a problem-solving approach. This would include identifying the issues and then going through a step-by-step process to identify possible solutions for resolving the problem. For example, the concern may be that a student or co-worker has a family member who works in the World Trade Center. The need is to know if that family member is all right. The problem-solving steps are to find various ways to communicate with the family member or someone else who will know if the person is okay. Also, identify what the person can and cannot do. What is within his or her control?
- Let students and staff know the resources available on campus. These resources include faculty and academic advisors; Division of Student Affairs staff, including Counseling Center staff; Office of Residence Life staff; Parents Office staff; chaplains; the Employee Assistance Program; and fellow students and co-workers.
- It is often helpful for people just to be with one another during times of crisis. Saying the “right” words isn’t the most important thing; feeling connected to people close to you is more important.
Common Stress Reactions
Following is a list of common physical, cognitive and emotional reactions to stressful events and situations:
- fatigue/exhaustion, difficulty concentrating and guilt;
- sleep disturbance, difficulty solving problems, and feelings of helplessness;
- underactivity/overactivity, flashbacks of the events and emotional numbing;
- change in appetite, difficulty making decisions and overly sensitive;
- digestive problems, memory disturbance and fear/anxiety;
- nightmares, preoccupation with the event and a sense of hopelessness;
- muscle tremors/twitches, lowered attention span and hyper vigilance;
- headaches, violent fantasies and anger/irritability; and
- startled reactions and moodiness (emotional reaction)
In addition one might experience a period of mild to moderate depression. Those symptoms include:
- poor appetite, insomnia and lethargy/low energy;
- social withdrawal/isolation, loss of sexual drive and difficulty concentrating; and
- persistent sad mood, sleep disturbance and intrusive thoughts.
These are normal reactions that are part of the recovery process. While there is little anyone can do to take away these uncomfortable feelings, there are several things a person can do to speed up the recovery process.
Things to try
- within the first 24 to 48 hours, engage in periods of strenuous physical exercise alternated with relaxation. Structure your time. Keep busy and keep your life as normal as possible;
- don’t berate yourself for having these reactions;
- talk to people about your feelings, fears and uncertainties;
- do not attempt to numb your emotional pain with drugs or alcohol;
- reach out to others and spend time with people you trust and cherish;
- help someone express his or her feelings;
- give yourself permission to fall apart, feel rotten and cry;
- keep a journal; and
- pray, meditate and appreciate the sanctity of life.
For more information or a consultation, contact the Counseling Center at 443-4715. A staff member is on call both during the business day and after business hours from 5 p.m. until 8:30 a.m. the next morning. This person can be reached by calling 443-4715 or 443-2666.