Coping in the Aftermath of Terrorism.
We are used to witnessing it on the TV or reading about it on the news. It’s usually somebody else’s life that’s been turned inside out. We all empathize with the shock, heartbreak, anger, and confusion, and we watch these strong communities and individuals looking to rebuild and seek justice.
But what happens when the roles are reversed, and suddenly it’s our community on the TV and in the news? People we know who have been injured, people around us who are suffering?
Even with the immense bravery shown by so many and the love and hope that always manages to shine through it can be hard to know how to cope.
If you are struggling, questioning, and wondering how to retain normality and carry on you are not alone in feeling this way. Traumatic events no matter how near or far to us can have a huge impact.
You may be struggling to understand how a shooting could occur and why such a terrible thing would happen. There may never be satisfactory answers to these questions.
These events can be triggering, they can bring up old feelings and memories of things that we have found traumatizing in the past, even if they are from a long time ago or are totally unrelated. You might find yourself reliving your own difficult moments in life or feel yourself getting increasingly anxious, low, or struggling day to day.
Recovering from a traumatic event is a long and difficult process, but you will get there. Everyone responds differently to trauma - there is no right or wrong way. It will help your recovery process if you don’t expect too much of yourself and of others.
Below are some of the many emotions you may experience over the coming weeks.
Shock or Numbness
At first, you may be in a state of shock and feel detached from the event, as if you are watching a movie or having a bad dream. Feeling numb and confused are common. This numbness protects you from feeling the full impact of what has happened all at once. Shock is your body and mind's normal and healthy way of processing difficult experiences. Shock can also trigger past traumas, which means you will have your own unique timeline for getting over shock.
As shock begins to wear off, it is not unusual to experience intense grief or anger or to cry uncontrollably. This emotional release is a really important part of grieving, and it is essential that you allow yourself to express this emotion in a safe environment. Holding back or ‘swallowing’ these painful emotions may prolong the grieving process.
Panic and Fear
You may feel intense fear, become extremely anxious about your surroundings, or experience waves of panic. All are incredibly normal responses to the traumatic experience that you had no time to prepare psychologically for. You may feel like you are going crazy, but you aren’t. Talking to other victims who have had similar feelings will help you to understand and come to terms with your own. It is very natural to feel panicked and suspicious of other people, but these feelings will begin to fade as time goes on.
For some people, they may find it easier to accept what happened if they can look for a way to blame themselves. “If only I had...”. sound familiar? This guilt does not make sense because the circumstances leading to terrorism usually cannot be controlled and are hard to predict.
Anger and resentment
It is natural to feel outraged and angry at the people or person responsible for the tragedy that has caused this trauma for you and those around you. You may also become angry with those around you who are close to you, those who are well-meaning who you believe don’t understand what you are going through. Feelings of anger are a natural part of your recovery process and are not right or wrong; they are simply feelings. It is important to recognize the emotion as real but to not use it as an excuse to take it out on those around you or use unhealthy ways to process this anger. Instead, look for healthy ways, such as physical activity, writing down your emotions, or having a cry.
Depression or loneliness
Depression and loneliness are often a large part of trauma for victims. It may seem that these feelings will last forever. Feelings of depression and loneliness are even stronger when
you feel as though no one understands. This is why it is really important to stay connected with others who may also have been affected by the same tragedy.
As well as experiencing the above emotions, you may struggle to feel as though things can ever go back to normal. Life may seem flat and meaningless. On the flip side, you may feel guilty if things do start feeling like they are returning to normal.
It can also be hard to keep hold of hope. To rally round and support and to stay strong. This is sometimes referred to as compassion fatigue. Sometimes we can become exhausted and find it hard to empathize or feel compassion towards others, we can feel numb and detached.
These are some of the normal reactions to trauma that people go through; there are many more ways that people react and cope too.
There are some things you can do to support yourself during these times and to build your own internal resilience.
The American Psychological Association provides some really useful tips to help which you can read in full here. We’ve provided our version below of some things which might help you.
Pace yourself: Slow down, take time to breathe. You may be experiencing shock or a multitude of other emotions. Your mind will also be racing to try and understand what has happened. Take all the time that you need.
Practice self-compassion: Show yourself as much kindness, support, encouragement, and patience as humanly possible. Practice self-care, take long baths, drink plenty of water, try and rest, gently exercise, and relax in all the ways you enjoy.
Keep Connected: Don’t withdraw from your friends, family, and the people you connect with. Keep talking, sharing, and telling people how you’re feeling. Maintaining a sense of social connection is really important and is a protective factor against mental health difficulties and feelings of hopelessness.
Take a news break: It can be super tempting to stay glued to the television in the aftermath of an incident. Of course, we want to know what’s going on and to keep up to date with how things develop but also give yourself a break from this too. Switch off from coverage for a while and don’t overload your mind with information.
Have a plan: It might help you to think through how you would plan for another crisis so that you feel prepared. Perhaps talk to friends and family about how you would make contact and also think about key items you would need and things you would need to do in an emergency situation. This will help you to gain back a sense of control, something that you may be struggling with as a result of the trauma of the event.
Help others: It might help you to think of ways you can contribute and support others during these times. There are lots of volunteer opportunities but also just being there for the people around you, talking, and supporting can be a real help to you and others.
Keep Going: Once you feel as though you can, try to stick with your daily routine. The anxiety cycle is worsened by avoidant behavior. Ultimately, returning to a stable daily routine is a strong signal to yourself, that you are resilient and capable.
Don't give yourself a timeline for healing: There will be good days and bad days, and you are doing your very best. Healing is not linear, and you may need more support some days than others. But eventually, you will be able to look back and see how far you have come.
We do live in a world loaded with risk. Death is a very real part of life that plays out all around us daily. We have little control of what happens around us and often to us but we can control how we choose to react and deal with it. It is easy to become paralyzed with fear and to change the way we live day to day and attempt to protect ourselves and those we love. But we mustn’t shut our lives down, we must stay open to risk, to adventure to travel, and to learning. We must live our lives as fully and as openly as we are able to. We get one shot and life is short and precious. Look after yourself, treat yourself with kindness and keep putting one foot in front of the other, however small the steps.
Life will continue to throw challenges our way as individuals, communities, and as the human race. But we are stronger than we think, we are resilient and we will cope with whatever life throws at us.