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Supporting each other through traumatic events

By ALETHEA PRICE

County Extension Agent for Family and Consumer Sciences

People who experience a traumatic event like COVID-19, and even those who watch it unfold from a distance, on television for example, can experience negative stress and serious emotional distress. This is because traumatic events are recognized as a threat to one’s personal safety and/or the world as you know it. It is also not uncommon for traumatic events to leave us with unanswered questions and uncertainty.

Responding to these situations in a productive manner can help us become stronger individuals and better community and family members. For example, try not to compare yourself to others, as no two people will respond to traumatic events and changes to daily routines the same way. Some people may panic or feel so numb or overwhelmed that they don’t even know how to respond, while others respond with anxiety or feel as if they’ve lost control. Others may experience grief and disbelief. Common reactions to trauma also include rapid heartbeat, sweating, changes in daily activity and sleeping and eating patterns, sensitivity to lights and sounds, increased conflict in relationships, headaches and nausea. It is not uncommon for children to experience bed-wetting.

According to the CDC, many people do not start feeling “normal” again for weeks or even months after a traumatic event ends. If stress symptoms persist or get worse, a person could be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and a medical or mental health professional should be contacted for consultation and follow-up.

Research has shown that moving forward and working at resolving one’s feelings at the time of a traumatic event is beneficial. This helps a person re-establish a sense of safety and trust. In a time of tragedy, be there for each other. Practice patience and understanding with your family members, friends and co-workers. Realize the additional stress may make them more irritable than normal.

At times family members and friends may feel helpless — not knowing what to do or how to help, but sometimes just being available is more help than you realize. If someone wants to talk to you about their feelings and experience, encourage them and let them share. If you cannot meet face-to-face, use social media or exchange phone calls or hand-written letters in the mail. Be careful not to force people to talk about their feelings or share information about the traumatic event if they are not ready. It can also be helpful to be sure that a person is educated about the situation so that stress is not rising over assumptions and rumors. Preferred outlets for information regarding national and statewide events include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website https://www.cdc.gov and the statewide page, https://chfs.ky.gov.

Be a friend to yourself and others. Check on relatives who live alone. Even in times of social distancing, a phone call can go a long way in making someone feel loved. Recognize that you and your family and friends will likely experience new or different emotions after everything returns to normal and that it will take time to heal. The CDC recommends individuals maintain their usual routine as much as possible, be kind, turn to family, friends and community members for support and recognize when things are out of control and help is needed. The American Psychological Association recommends engaging in healthy behaviors such as eating well-balanced meals, staying physically active, sleeping and practicing stress-relief through relaxation and meditation.

For more information on raising healthy families, contact the Boyle County Cooperative Extension Service. Feel free to email me at a.price@uky.edu.