After experiencing a stressful or traumatic event, it takes time for our minds, bodies, and spirits to adjust
and rebalance. This is normal and expected. This document details some tips to help you – as an individual,
parent, and/or leader – to make this adjustment.
Things to try
- Get plenty of rest.
- Strenuous physical exercise, alternated with relaxation, will alleviate some of the physical reactions.
- You're NORMAL and having NORMAL reactions – don't label yourself as "crazy!"
- Talk to people. Talk is a most healthy medicine.
- Be wary of numbing the pain with the overuse of drugs or alcohol.
- Reach out; people do care.
- Maintain as normal a schedule as possible.
- Spend time with others.
- Help your co-workers as much as possible by sharing feelings and checking out how they're doing.
- Give yourself permission to feel rotten and share your feelings with others.
- Keep a journal; write your way through those sleepless hours.
- Do things that feel good to you!
- Realize those around you are also under stress.
- Do make as many daily decisions as possible. This will give you a feeling of control over your life (i.e.,
if someone asks you if you want to eat, answer them even if you're not sure.).
- Reoccurring thoughts, dreams or flashbacks are NORMAL – don't try to fight them – they'll decrease over
time and become less painful.
- Eat well-balanced and regular meals (even if you don't feel like eating).
- Structure your time – keep busy.
Stress management for parents
Traumatic events require special attention to communicating with children and adolescents. Physical safety and
security takes priority.
- Your response to the disaster is the single biggest factor affecting your child's response; therefore, it
is helpful to discuss your own reactions with another adult before talking with your children.
- Discuss the event in an open honest manner with your children, but also realize that children are not
adults and should not be burdened with everything you are feeling. Children may want to talk about the
event intermittently, and younger children might need concrete information to be repeated.
- Be available for your child.
- Limit the exposure to television or other sources on information about the disaster and its victims.
- Engage your child in conversation of their choosing-not necessarily about their feelings or the scene.
Talking about the normal events of life is central to health.
- Maintain daily routines to the extent possible. For children, school is an important part of feeling safe
- Increase your child's sense of control and mastery within the household – let him or her plan dinner or
the evening's activities.
- Every child has a different way of responding to trauma. It is not advisable to require the same response
of everyone. Listen to your child's stories.
- Now is not the time to introduce new routines. Familiar schedules and bedtime stories can be reassuring.
- Reassure your children that the disaster was not their fault in any way.
- Older children and adolescents may feel "stirred up." Help them understand their behavior; setting limits
- Some children may respond by returning to old behaviors, such as a loss of toilet training, or inability
to fall asleep alone. These should be tolerated and understood.
- Help your child moderate the extent to which they personalize or identify with the victims or the
situation. Provide concrete information to your child about how s/he differs from the people in the
accident to decrease over-identifying with the victims.
- Remind your children that they are safe and with you.
For leaders and supervisors
- Take care of yourself (or you will not be helpful to your subordinates).
- Listen carefully.
- Spend time with the person.
- Offer your assistance and listening ear, even if they don't ask for help.
- Reassure them that they are safe.
- Give them some private time.
- Don't take their anger or other feelings personally.
- Don't tell them that they are "lucky it wasn't worse." (They may not be consoled by those statements: it
will make them feel guilty for feeling what they feel.) Instead, tell them that you are sorry such an
event has occurred and that you want to understand and assist them.
- Don't feel like you have to have all the answers or know exactly what to do. Just being there shows them
that you care. (It is okay to ask them what they would like for you to do).
Signs of stress
Physical signs include:
- Muscle tremors
- Chest pain
- Difficulty breathing
- Elevated blood pressure
- Rapid heart rate
- Visual difficulties
- Grinding teeth
- Profuse sweating
- Shock symptoms
Cognitive/mental signs include:
- Blaming someone
- Poor attention
- Poor decisions
- Change in alertness
- Poor concentration
- Memory problems
- Intrusive images
- Poor problem solving
- Poor abstract thinking
- Difficulty identifying familiar objects or people
- Increased or decreased awareness of surroundings
- Loss of orientation to time, place, or person
- Disturbed thinking
Emotional signs include:
- Severe pain (rare)
- Emotional shock
- Loss of emotional control
- Inappropriate emotional response
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Intense anger
Behavioral signs include:
- Change in activity
- Alcohol consumption
- Inability to rest
- Antisocial acts
- Change in speech patterns
- Emotional outbursts
- Loss or increase of appetite
- Hyper-alert to environment
- Startle reflex intensified
- Erratic movements
- Change in sexual functioning
- Non-specific bodily complaints
- Change in usual communication
These are all normal responses to abnormal events. If they continue however, this can be a problem. The very
best police and fire departments seek help regularly when needed.
(NOTE: These tips were compiled from a variety of sources by a team of Army and Defense Department mental-health
professionals who deployed in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attack on the Pentagon to assist survivors, military
rescue workers, and their families.)