Facing Trauma and Loss with Resilience and Hope
by Dr. Brad Schwall
The Impact of Tragedy
Tragedy disrupts what we take for granted - safety, security, and stability. Traumatic events throw us off balance. Seeing and experiencing destruction, individuals injured and killed, and loss have an emotional and physical impact.
It’s common to experience anxiety, sadness, and anger when tragedy occurs. Natural disasters lead to financial and material loss compounding the stress and complicating the recovery process. Changes in appetite, difficulty sleeping, and increased heart rate physically signal the stress we experience from trauma. Startle responses when a noise similar to what was heard during the event may occur long after the initial experience. Symptoms related to intrusive memories, avoidance of situations that bring back memories, and troubling thoughts and emotional responses that last for a month or longer or are severe impacting day-to-day functioning may indicate the development of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The Power of Resilience
We all have the potential to be resilient - the ability to handle adversity and regain strength and health. Help from friends, family, and the community encourage resilience. Coping strategies can help in developing and maintaining resilience.
- Acknowledge the loss. Denying pain only causes the pain to persist and escalate.
- Take care of yourself physically - move, eat well, allow ample time for sleep.
- Stay connected. Find support, reach out to others, share, and offer help. Rely on faith communities and spirituality as sources for assistance, encouragement, and hope.
- Try to establish a routine as much as is possible.
- Have hope. Recall times from the past when you overcame a difficult situation. Be grateful for the help you’re receiving and the progress that is being made.
- Rebuild. Problem-solve immediate issues recognizing that rebuilding is a process. Avoid thinking too far into the future.
How to Help Children
Children and teens are impacted by the actual traumatic event and the response of adults around them.
- Model self-care and establish a routine.
- Talk with and listen to children and teens. Let them take the lead in what they want to share - do not force them to share. Ask them what they are thinking about and feeling. Let them ask questions. Allow for creative expression through drawing or painting.
- Spend time with them and allow time for them to be with friends.
- Watch for signs of trauma such as changes in sleep patterns, irritability, and reports of disturbing dreams.
Rebuilding is a process that involves different challenges at each stage. Professional help may be beneficial if symptoms of anxiety persist or symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder are apparent. Rely on others and recognize your own resilience, rebuilding one step at a time with hope for the future.