Emotional Responses To Grief After a Loss by Suicide

Disclaimer: If you or someone you know is thinking about hurting themselves, call the free, 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

 

Grief is overwhelming at best, no matter the cause of death, but a loss by suicide is particularly complicated. 

According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide rates for adults in the United States are on the rise. Since 1999, suicide rates in 25 states increased by more than 30%. In the US, suicide accounted for nearly 45,000 deaths in 2016.

Suicide cuts across sex, age, and economic barriers. People of all ages complete suicide; men and women as well as young children. Sadly, no one is immune to this tragedy.

So how do you come to terms with the suicide of someone you know and love?

alone with emotional trauma

Asking The Question Why

Why would anyone willingly cause his or her death? It’s a tough question to ask.

Each suicide is individual, regardless of the generalized “why.” There may be no way you’ll completely understand the suicide victim’s thought process. No matter how much you search for a reason, you may not be able to answer the question “why.”

However, mental health professionals generally agree that people who took their own lives felt trapped by what they saw as hopeless. Whatever the reality, they felt isolated and cut off from life and friendships. Even if no physical illness was present, suicide victims felt intense pain, anguish, and hopelessness. 

John Newer, the author of After Suicide, says that they “probably weren’t choosing death as much as choosing to end this unbearable pain.”

Understanding and Preparing For Emotional Responses

Each suicide is individual, and so is the reaction, healing, and coping process. Whatever your response is, it is okay, it is healthy, and it is all part of the healing process.

Initial Shock

Shock is the first reaction to a death. You may feel numb and unable to follow a normal daily routine. This shock can be healthy, protecting you from the initial pain of the loss, and it may help you get through funeral arrangements and services. It may last a few days or go on for several weeks. Take some time to be alone, if that is what you want, but it is also essential to be with other people and to return to your routine.

After the initial shock, you may feel angry, guilty, and of course, sad. These feelings may overwhelm you all at once, or they may surface in future weeks, months, and years. 

 

The following feelings are normal and can vary throughout the healing process. Try to understand and accept what you are feeling. 

Guilt

prayer emotional self care

The most common feeling loved ones express after losing someone to suicide is remorse.

“Was there something I could have done to prevent this?” 

Professionals call this survivor’s guilt. While it’s a typical response, those who experience it must work through it in their own time in their way. It’s important to recognize that no one has complete control over another person’s actions. 

Shame

How many of us have heard people whispering about suicide, fearful of the reactions of those around us? 

Suicide still carries an enormously heavy stigma in many circles.  Finding the right people in your support network who are able to help you experience your loss is important. Sometimes, this may mean seeking professional help in order to help you cope with your loss.

 

Anger

Feelings like these are normal, yet they’re especially difficult to contend with if you’re grieving a loss related to a loved one’s suicide. Don’t try to deny or hide anger. It is possible to both be angry with someone and to still hold them dear in your heart. Sometimes you need to feel angry before you can accept the reality of the loss.

 

Relief

For many, the weeks and months, and even years leading up to the death by suicide have been a rollercoaster of emotion. 

If you were closely involved with the deceased, their pain and suffering could have become an emotional drain. Now you may be feeling a sense of relief that you don’t have to worry anymore or even relief that the deceased’s pain has finally ended. 

A sense of relief when a difficult situation ends is normal. When the end is an unhappy one, the relief can still be there, but now it is colored with guilt.

Remember, don’t expect perfection; accept your relief, and don’t let it grow to inappropriate guilt. Sadly, these feelings often cycle back to guilt or shame.

While it may feel wrong to be relieved, it’s perfectly normal to grapple with these feelings.

 

Looking Ahead

talk through emotional trauma

There will be times when these feelings will surface very strongly. Especially in the first year, you’ll need to decide if you want to maintain traditions or create new traditions to ease painful memories. 

On the anniversary of the death, you may want to be alone, attend church, or observe the day in a manner that means something special to you. Or you may prefer to spend that time with someone close to you or make plans for a family gathering. 

You can’t avoid these periods of sadness, but try to prepare for the feelings so they will not be overwhelming. Sometimes, your loneliness and sadness may come back for no reason; be prepared to face this, too.

 

Moving Forward, One Step at a Time

Your grief and sadness will eventually subside, and you’ll be able to pick up the pieces of your life and rebuild. You will never “get over” the loss you’ve experienced, but you can “get through” it. This loss has changed you, but you can learn how to survive and grow from this challenge. 

There’s no map to get back to the living; no one size fits all approach. You build your path to healing as you go, putting one foot in front of the other. 

Whatever you do, do not travel this path of healing alone. 

Ask for help from friends or counseling services if you need them. You can’t expect to forget, but you’ll be able to cope.

 

Resources


5 Steps to Improve Your Non-Verbal Communication Skills

A lot can be said without words in a face-to-face conversation. 

We’ve all heard the statistics several times before: body language accounts for more than 50% of our communication.

Every day we respond to thousands of nonverbal cues and behaviors, including postures, facial expressions, gestures, and tone of voice. Often, our non-verbal communication speaks loudest in our conversations. 

These non-verbal cues play a huge role in how our words and intentions are interpreted. A wealth of emotions can be conveyed with a look, a sigh, a smile or a tilt of the head. Excellent non-verbal skills can help show your support by expressing you genuinely care and are truly hearing what someone has to say.

To show support for someone after they’ve experienced a crisis, it’s crucial to be aware of their nonverbal cues, as well as our own

 

Understanding Types of Nonverbal Communication

Forms of nonverbal communication are many and varied and can provide extensive insight into a person’s thoughts and/or feelings. 

  • Gestures include moving the head or limbs.
  • Posture is the way that you sit or stand and how open your body is to others.
  • Eye contact and movements are the direction and focus of a person’s eyes.
  • Tone of voice is the range of pitch that may communicate something other than the words being spoken. It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it.
  • Facial expressions refer to any movement and changes of the facial composition.

 

The ability to understand and use nonverbal communication is a powerful tool that can help us connect positively and reinforce mutual understanding and respect. 

What a person actually says along with their non-verbal communications can show a great deal more about what that person is really trying to say. During your next face-to-face conversation dealing with trauma or a crisis, keep these five tips in mind:

1. Maintain comfortable eye contact.

Don’t avoid eye contact, but do avoid staring. It’s important to meet someone’s gaze. It shows you are interested and that your focus is on them – quite literally!

2. Keep your body position open.

Avoid crossing your arms over your body – it may appear defensive. When your body position is open, it conveys that you are open to listening.

 

3. Work on your posture

Parents used to emphasize the need to stand up straight and avoid slouching in a chair. As it turns out, they were giving you your first lesson in non-verbal communication. 

 

Posture is a non-verbal indicator of confidence level. Sit up straight. Don’t slump; it conveys disinterest and inattention. Leaning back, or rocking back and forth in your chair says you’re bored. Instead, lean forward when listening to someone speaks, which shows active interest in both the person and conversation.

 

4. Sit down, even if the person is standing

Being on the same level as someone appears less threatening and can make them feel more comfortable while avoiding feelings of tension or nervousness when having personal conversations.

 

5. Question yourself

Throughout the conversation, monitor your progress. Ask yourself: How was I perceived? Could I do something differently? Were people really interested and paying attention to what I was saying? Did I listen well to others? 

 

As you answer these questions, your self-awareness of your non-verbal communication will increase.

 

Sometimes it’s not about what you say, but what you do. When used together, these non-verbal behaviors can improve your communication skills, so you can provide support with your words as well as your actions. 

 

Sources

https://www.helpguide.org/articles/relationships-communication/nonverbal-communication.htm
https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/psychpedia/nonverbal-communication 


7 Emotional Coping Strategies for COVID-19

As I’m writing to you, humanity is in uncharted waters.

The outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) has caused stress, fear, and anxiety and forced us to change our daily lives. Feelings of fear and anxiety can be overwhelming and generate strong emotions. 

Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations.

Reactions during an outbreak like COVID-19 can look like:

  • Fear and worry for yourself and your loved ones
  • Changes in sleep or eating patterns
  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
  • Worsening of chronic health problems
  • Worsening of mental health conditions
  • Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs

It’s natural for stress that can lead to burnout or emotional trauma. But recognizing signs of stress and using coping techniques can help. Developing coping strategies will make you, the people you care about, and your community stronger.

 

To cope with stress, try implementing these 7 strategies:

 

1. Take Care of Your Body

Our emotions live in our bodies, so take good care of yours! Here are some important ways to look after your body: 

 

  • Maintain a regular sleep schedule—try to go to sleep and wake up at roughly the same time
  • Work towards maintaining proper nutrition and regular meals
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine intake
  • Get some exercise

 

2. Maintain Social Connections

Social connection is good for us too! Maintain social distance, but stay in touch with friends, or spend time with your four-legged friends. Some snuggle time with your pets can make a tough day a lot easier. You might even try writing letters to stay in touch with friends during social distancing!

 

3. Develop A Routine

Maintain a schedule for meals, classes or work, and relaxation time. Having a routine helps us contain emotions and feel a sense of control. 

4. Maintain Perspective 

While this is a huge event for everyone, remind yourself of what’s good in your life. Maintain your perspective by refocusing on what’s important: health, friends, being able to continue towards your degree, religion, and spirituality. 

 

5. Acknowledge Your Experience 

Consider keeping a journal about what this experience is like for you. But be sure to end your daily entry with three good things about the day, however small, to help keep your spirits up. 

 

6. Shift Your Focus

 Take the focus off of yourself or the discouraging information. Take a moment to do something kind for someone else. If you can’t visit in person, call! 

 

7. Find Resources

Look through the free resources on Seeking Hope’s store, as well as the Seeking Hope Podcast, and other blog posts. There’s a lot of useful information there!

Consider making use of one of the many mental health apps and available online meeting options. You might find Seeking Hope’s emotional first aid telecoaching useful in finding something that speaks to you.

Here are some other helpful resources to support your mental and emotional wellbeing:

 

Preparing & Transitioning Out of Quarantine

Everyone feels differently after coming out of quarantine. You may experience mixed emotions, including a sense of relief.

Emotional reactions to coming out of quarantine may include

  • Mixed emotions, including relief
  • Fear and worry about your health and the health of your loved ones
  • Stress from monitoring yourself or being monitored by others for signs and symptoms of the disease
  • Guilt about not being able to perform normal work or parenting duties during the quarantine

 

As quarantine begins to end, we’ll be adapting to a new normal in our lives.

Take time to focus on the ways you can help yourself and your loved ones move through the traumas of the moment and develop the skills needed to rise through the crisis. 

 

Sources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

World Health Organization (WHO)

CDC Manage Anxiety and Stress


5 Steps For First Responder Emotional First Aid

Some days John McCormack feels like he can take on the world. But then he hears a baby cry or a siren wail, “and my heart starts pounding, and I experience a gut-wrenching feeling,” he said.

John is a paramedic, and he battles the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) brought on by his job.

John is one of many first responders who provide critical services to communities in the aftermath of disasters, both natural and manmade. 

First responders never know what a day on the job is going to look like. Their work can mean close encounters with danger, chaos, and tragedy on a daily basis.

The emotional and physical needs of those first responders are often forgotten during crisis. They may not consider their own needs, or they may simply be too occupied with other responsibilities to handle personal or family needs. 

 

But helpers need help, encouragement, and assistance, too.

When the Helpers Need Help

First responders provide critical services to communities in the aftermath of disasters, both natural and manmade. Their work can be dangerous, physically demanding, personally draining, and heart-breaking, often involving long hours and difficult circumstances. Their exposure to traumatic events can lead to a range of health and mental health consequences, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), compassion fatigue, and burnout.

Studies have found that 75% of rescue workers have mild symptoms of psychological trauma following a disaster. Several factors, including longer periods of deployment, inexperience, close contact with corpses, and longer shifts, are associated with greater mental health challenges.

No matter what the title or assignment, the mission of these professionals is to respond to disasters and crises that threaten the safety and welfare of others. First responders go to the scene exposing themselves to personal and psychological traumas to care for the health and safety of others.

For first responders, if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to care for others. To continue to do the job you love or what you have been called to do, you have to take care of yourself first. 

It’s the age old saying: put your mask on first then help others to put their mask on. 

Here Are 5 Steps For Emotional First Aid For First Responders

1. Be Prepared for the Unknown

Crisis and disaster relief include anything from search and rescue operations to supply distribution or treating injuries. Understanding that situations can rapidly change at a moment’s notice and without warning is part of being ready and will have a positive effect on first responder mental health.

 

2. Consistently Assess Emotional Health

writing emotional self care

It’s easy to put yourself on the back burner when working in situations where others are experiencing horrific trauma. Still, a lack of awareness of your mental and emotional health can lead to a downward spiral. Stress reactions to intense situations include:

  • Difficulties sleeping
  • Substance abuse
  • Numbing
  • Irritability or anger
  • Confusion
  • Physical reactions, such as stomachaches and headaches
  • Depression or anxiety symptoms

If you begin experiencing any of these symptoms, reach out to your team, your leader, your chaplain, or your family and let them know you need support.

A crucial time to access your mental and emotional well-being is after emergency relief work. 

Stress can take time to manifest, and it’s important to be aware in the days and weeks after working in disaster relief. Many organizations institute exit exams that are designed to help first responders decompress after an emergency crisis, as well as encourage and distribute information about counseling options.

 

3. Be Aware of Your Organization’s Policies

Most agencies and organizations are aware of the importance of first responder emotional and mental health and have guidelines and policies in place to address it, such as:

  • Mandated time off
  • Shift limits
  • Task rotation to limit burnout in high-stress situations
  • Employing enough providers
  • Encouraging peer partners

 

4. Utilize Self-Care Strategies

writing emotional self care

Take time to focus on personal needs, such as making sure you are eating enough, exercising, and taking time to relax. Know your limitations and step away when it’s warranted. Focus on putting stress away and immersing yourself in activities you enjoy, such as spending time with friends or family.

Click here to learn more about self-care strategies for emotional first aid

5. Be Aware of Actions That Increase Stress

While working in emergency relief situations, it’s easy to slip into habits that can lead to decreased mental health, such as:

  • Extending periods of working alone
  • Taking limited breaks
  • Excessive use of food or substance as a crutch

Non-helpful self-talk, such as, “It would be selfish to take a break,” and “The needs of survivors are more important than the needs of helpers.”

Responding to disasters can be both rewarding and stressful. Knowing that you have stress and coping with it as you respond will help you stay well, and this will allow you to keep helping those who are affected. 

Caring for yourself while helping others does not make you selfish or needy.  The care that helpers provide others can only be as good as the care they provide themselves.

If you are a first responder or know someone who is, consider taking the CARES course so you can be empowered and equipped with the tools necessary to recognize and respond to a crisis in a healthy way.

Click Here to Start Your CARES Training Today

Sources

PTSD: How Working as a Paramedic Left Me With a Mental Health Emergency of My Own

https://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/06/job-tran 


opioid crisis

Emotional First Aid During The Opioid Epidemic

Every day, 140 individuals in the United States die of a drug overdose, 91 of them specifically due to opioids. 

 

Opioid addiction is an epidemic that has spread like wildfire across the United States, devastating communities, and forever changing the lives of those affected.

 

Most of us know someone who has faced addiction and maybe even lost their life to it. The death toll due to opioid overdose continues to rise, and that’s why at Seeking Hope, we’re focusing on how each of us can use emotional first aid to make a difference and save a life.

conversation about emotional trauma

What Is The Opioid Epidemic?

The opioid epidemic specifically refers to the growing number of deaths and hospitalizations from opioids, including prescriptions, illicit drugs, and analogs. Common types of opioids include heroin, oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), morphine, and methadone. 

In recent years, death rates from these drugs have ramped up to over 40,000 a year, or 115 a day, across the U.S. Drug overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, largely due to the opioid epidemic. The opioid epidemic first gained notoriety around 2010, but the factors behind it had begun several years earlier.

Every day, opioid overdoses take the lives of our family, neighbors, classmates, and friends. And, according to an analysis conducted by The Health Initiative, the number of opioid deaths is continuing to peak, and there is no end in sight.

Opioid addiction is a disease. 

Addiction, also called opioid use disorder, is a serious medical condition. It is a chronic, relapsing brain disease with symptoms that include compulsive seeking and use of the drug, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain; they change its structure and how it works. These brain changes can be long-lasting and can lead to many harmful, often self-destructive behaviors. While the initial decision to use drugs is mostly voluntary, addiction often takes over and impairs a person’s ability to self-regulate. 

opioid crisis

How to Avoid Opioid Dependence

If you or someone you care for lives with depression, anxiety, or another mental health condition, here are a few things you can do to avoid dependency on opioids:

 

 

1. Care for your mental health

 

writing emotional self care

Avoid using opioids as a mental health treatment. Instead, see a psychiatrist, psychologist, or another mental health professional to discuss a different therapy that may work for you. Treatment may involve antidepressant medications, counseling, and social support.

 

 

2. Follow directions

If you need to take opioids after surgery or an injury, use only the amount your doctor prescribed. Once you’ve finished the dose or you’re no longer in pain, stop taking the medication. Staying on these drugs for less than two weeks makes you less likely to become dependent on them.

 

 

3. Watch for signs of dependence

If you’re taking larger doses of the opioid to get the desired effect, you may be dependent. Going off the drug will lead to withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, anxiety, vomiting, diarrhea, and shaking. See your doctor or an addiction specialist to help you stop using these drugs.

 

This epidemic is far from over. But every one of us has a part to play in this epidemic. Just by listening and being kind to somebody, you can make a difference in their lives. 

emotional support

Take Action Today

The statistics say it all.

It is more important now than ever that everyone is trained in Emotional First Aid to have the wisdom and tools to respond during a crisis. Sometimes all it takes to make a difference in the life of someone living with a mental health or substance use challenge is knowing how to start the conversation.

The CARES online program can help you recognize and respond to moments of crisis, like an opioid addiction or someone experiencing an overdose. 

The training is designed for individuals, professionals, and organizations who are working to prepare and have a plan in place for crisis and the after-effects of trauma.

Your training will challenge your perspective on crisis and prepare you for the realities that interrupt the flow of life in you and in almost everyone around you on a daily basis.


help children with grief

Helping Children Deal With Grief

Children have the same emotional needs as adults, but sometimes these needs are ignored or taken lightly. Many times adults are too full of grief to reach out to their children.

 

You can’t protect your kids from the pain of loss, but you can help build healthy coping skills.

 

As a parent, you can’t protect your children from grief, but you can help them feel safe. And by allowing and encouraging them to express their feelings, you can help him build healthy coping skills that will serve him well in the future.

emotional first aid for families

How To Tell A Child Someone Has Died

It will never be easy telling your young child that a loved one or a pet has died. You may be wondering How and what do I tell them?” 

Before you begin the conversation, take a moment to evaluate your own emotional state regarding the death. 

Do you need someone with you? 

If so, reach out to family, a friend, or a clergyperson. Then, you can break the news that someone has died in a caring way.

 

  • Be honest. Give them clean, correct facts about death compassionately and lovingly. Be careful not to over-explain.
  • Keep it simple. Use “died,” not “He/She is sleeping/passed away.” 
  • Listen carefully to their questions and answer them truthfully. 
  • Tell your children about the death, even the young ones.
  • Encourage your children to share their grief with you and with trusted friends.
  • Be aware of children’s possible guilt feelings. Assure them that the death was not their fault.
  • Give him or her choices in what to do. Some children want to go to school the day of the death. Familiar routines are comforting. Inform the school of the death before your child returns. 
  • Reassure your child that he or she will be cared for and explain the plan.

emotional first aid for children grieving

What To Say To A Child Who Is Grieving

Offering support to a grieving child can begin with a simple statement or open-ended question. Try to avoid euphemisms like, ‘She’s in a better place,’ because they can be scary or confusing for young children.

 

Here are some conversation starters:

 

Initial statements:

  • “I’m so sorry your mom/dad/sister died.”
  • “What was your dad/mom/brother like?”
  • “Tell me about your ________________________.”

 

If some time has passed:

    • What do you miss the most?
    • What is the hardest part for you?
    • What is the hardest time of the day for you?
    • Can you tell me something he said that made you laugh?

emotional first aid for children

Anytime:

  • I care about you. I care about how you’re feeling. Can you think of something that we can do that might help you feel better?
  • I’m available if you would like to talk.
  • Whenever you want to talk about it, I’m here for you.
  • I’m thinking about you, especially today because I’m aware that today is your mother’s birthday (anniversary of the death, your birthday, etc.). I’m here to listen if you want to talk or just spend time together if you don’t want to talk.

Examples of Appropriate Conversations

Children think in literal terms, and therefore what we say is what the child will believe. Always tell the child the truth about death. To soften or tell a white lie is to plant the seeds of confusion and distrust.

  • Communicate your experience. Express what you are feeling in whatever ways feel comfortable to you. Whether you want to tell your story to friends and family, or you prefer to write or draw your feelings, expressing them will help you process and move forward.
  • Find a local support group led by professionals. Support groups are frequently available for survivors. Group discussion can help you realize that you are not alone in your reactions and emotions. Support group meetings can be especially helpful for people with limited personal support systems.

Inappropriate: Grandpa went to sleep last night and he is now in Heaven.

Child’s Response: Fear of sleep, fear of the dark, nightmares

Appropriate:  Grandpa died last night. This will be a sad time for all of us, but we will get through it together.


Inappropriate: God loved Daddy so much that He took him to Heaven to live with the angels.

Child’s response: Fear of God. Fear Mother will also die. Fear of love. Rejection of spiritual values.

Appropriate:  We believe that Daddy is in Heaven with God and that God knows how much we miss Daddy.


Inappropriate: Grandma went on a long trip and won’t be coming back.

Child’s response: Why didn’t Grandma say goodbye before she left? Doesn’t Grandma love me? Fear of loss of Mom and Dad leaving for a while (i.e., to work or shopping).

Appropriate:  Grandma was very sick; she died. God said she could come and be with Him in Heaven.


Inappropriate: Well, you know what they say, only the good die young.

Child’s Response: If the good die young, I don’t want to die, so I won’t be good. Or does that mean that I am bad?

Appropriate:  How sad that such a young child died. I wonder if there is anything I can do to help the family?


Inappropriate: You must always be a good little girl because Daddy is watching you from Heaven.

Child’s Response:  Paranoia. Fear of making mistakes. Extreme guilt feelings when not behaving well coupled with an inability to make it up to the deceased parent.

Appropriate: Daddy’s love for you can never die. He is not with us like he used to be, but we will always remember and love him.


For more guidance on having these types of conversations, click here to read our post, How To Have a Conversation About Emotional Trauma

Activities To Help Children Cope With Grief

Whether a student has lost a parent, sibling, grandparent, or another relative, or if the student is struggling with loss on a larger scale, he or she needs opportunities to express his or her feelings and learn about grief.

 

Make a Collage

A collage is a poster of pictures or words. You can cut pictures or words from magazines or newspapers. Please ask for permission before doing so, and you may need help with the scissors. Look through the magazines or newspapers for pictures or words that remind you of the person who died. Maybe you’ll find his/ her first name or the name of the city he/she lived in. There are many things you can find to help you remember this person who has died.

 

Art

Sometimes there are no words for what your child is going through. drawing can be one way to express their feelings of loss or sadness. Drawing a picture of the deceased person creates a memorial, while drawing pictures of the family before and after the death helps children process the changes in their lives.

children dealing with crisis

Writing

Write a letter to the person who died; write a letter from the person who died to you; make a wish list; write in a journal; write poems about feelings or memories; make a goodbye card.

 

Storytelling/Reading

Tell stories to each other about the person who died. If you’ve lost a loved one, write a letter saying the things you never got to say. Read stories together to create your own life story.

children grieving

Grief is a heartbreaking road, especially for children. Children who are dealing with loss have many of the same feelings and needs that the adults around them do, but because they are kids, they have far fewer resources and abilities to cope with their feelings. 

It’s up to us to provide them. And there is no shame in needing help with that. The healing process takes time, but you’ll get through it together.

For specific guidance on caring for children during a time of loss, you can download our free CARE for Children card.


natural disaster recovery

Recovering After A Natural Disaster

Disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes, transportation accidents, and wildfires are typically unexpected, sudden, and overwhelming. 

These events disrupt, suspend, and, at worst, destroy lives.

Every year natural disasters kill around 60,000 people and affect close to 160 million people worldwide!

Disasters bring an incredible range of emotions, from disbelief and anger to a euphoric spirit of teamwork. 

 

But long after the skies have cleared and the chaos cleaned up, what remains are the storms within. 

recovering after trauma

Temporary homelessness, damaged personal belongings, and an uncertain future weighs heavily on survivors. 

Understanding how to respond properly and having strategies to cope after distressing events can help you and the ones around you live through the difficult times after a natural disaster but more importantly along the path to recovery. 

 

What To Expect After A Traumatic Natural Disaster

People react to the trauma of natural disasters, whether or not they were directly affected. 

Knowing what to expect can help to normalize your experience and reduce stress. 

The reactions are usually temporary, may vary among individuals, and can fluctuate over the coming weeks. These symptoms will generally lessen during the natural healing process, which takes time, attention, and support. 

Disasters are upsetting experiences for everyone involved. But for children, senior citizens, people with disabilities, and people who may not speak English fluently, disasters bring a higher risk and they are likely to need additional support.

But everyone, even the leaders that others look to during disasters, deserves support in their recovery process.

 

Common Reactions To A Natural Disaster

It is natural to feel stress, grief, anxiety, and worry during and after a disaster. 

And as time moves forward after the initial event, your feelings will change, too. The most common reactions, some of which may be subtle, are: 

  • Physical signs, which may include discomfort, muscle aches, cold/flu symptoms, headaches, malaise, fatigue, and appetite changes. 
  • Feelings of shock, numbness, disbelief, and uncertainty over how to make sense of what has happened. 
  • Increased sense of vulnerability and decreased sense of safety and security. 

Wide-ranging feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, abandonment, fear, frustration, irritability, anger, anxiety, sadness, moodiness, depression, guilt, grief.

helplessness after trauma

  • Behavioral changes that seem to be more impulsive, like taking greater risks, using or abusing substances, and developing sleep disturbances. 
  • Interpersonal conflicts with a spouse, partners, family members, friends, co-workers, colleagues, neighbors, or strangers. 
  • Cognitive and perceptual changes, such as difficulty concentrating, dulled awareness or thinking, confusion, forgetfulness, and intrusive thoughts or images.
  • Changes in social outlook: wanting to isolate yourself from others, feeling detached, or having a lack of interest in people or things. 

alone with emotional trauma

Ways To Cope After A Natural Disaster

Taking care of your emotional health during and after a natural disaster will help you think clearly and protect yourself and your family. Self-care during an emergency will also help your long-term healing.

Whether you experienced a disaster firsthand or were indirectly affected by it, it’s important to take steps to recovery. 

 

Here are a few steps to help you cope:

  • Give yourself time to adjust. Anticipate that this will be a difficult time. Allow yourself to mourn the losses you have experienced.
  • Ask for support from people who care about you. Social support is a crucial component of disaster recovery. You can find support from family and friends, as well as those who’ve also survived the disaster. You may also want to reach out to others not involved to provide greater support and objectivity.

women emotional first aid support

  • Communicate your experience. Express what you are feeling in whatever ways feel comfortable to you. Whether you want to tell your story to friends and family, or you prefer to write or draw your feelings, expressing them will help you process and move forward.
  • Find a local support group led by professionals. Support groups are frequently available for survivors. Group discussion can help you realize that you are not alone in your reactions and emotions. Support group meetings can be especially helpful for people with limited personal support systems.

emotional first aid support

  • Engage in healthy behaviors to prevent excessive stress. Eat well-balanced meals and get plenty of rest. If you experience ongoing difficulties with sleep, you may be able to find some relief through relaxation techniques. Avoid alcohol and drugs because they can be a numbing diversion that could detract from as well as delay active coping and moving forward from the disaster.
  • Establish or reestablish routines. Routines can include eating meals at regular times, sleeping and waking on a regular cycle, or following an exercise program. Create routines to have something to look forward to during these distressing times, like pursuing a hobby, walking through a park, or reading a good book.
  • Avoid making major life decisions. Switching careers or jobs and other important decisions tend to be highly stressful in their own right and even harder to take on when you’re recovering from a disaster.
  • Express as best you can to people who feel supportive to you. This combats internalizing the experience and may promote a greater sense of control. 
  • Above all else, if you feel overwhelmed, ask for help.

 

Fortunately, research shows that most people are resilient and, over time, can bounce back from tragedy. 

 

After a few months, most people can resume functioning as they did before the disaster. There is hope for restoring your feelings of safety and returning to your normal lifestyle! 

At Seeking Hope, we have the unique privilege of training people to provide support to victims on what is possibly the worst day of their lives. We’re here to help you learn how to help survivors and communities rebuild – physically and emotionally. 

The road to recovery is long, hard, and seldom straightforward, but remember – you’re not in this alone. 

Whether you want to help others through crisis, overcome your own struggles, or find hope in the world, Seeking Hope has a solution to help you grow. Click here to learn more about our online training program, CARES, so you can be better prepared when your or a loved one faces a crisis.

 

Sources:

https://ourworldindata.org/natural-disasters

https://www.who.int/environmental_health_emergencies/natural_events/en/


2020 emotional self care

5 Emotional Self-Care Resolutions For 2020

The new year is just around the corner, and most of us are probably more than ready to leave 2019 in the past. It might feel like these last twelve months have been jam-packed with a whirlwind of turmoil, trauma, and stressful events. 

But now, it’s time to unwind, take a deep breath, and set an intention for the new calendar year. 

Instead of choosing one of the more common efforts like losing weight, quitting smoking, and exercising regularly, we’d like to suggest a different type of New Year’s resolution: 

 

Emotional Self-care

 

Emotional self-care is about caring for your emotional needs, identifying your feelings, and then moving forward while honoring yourself and those emotions. 

peace with emotional self care

When our emotional self-care needs are not being addressed, we tend to feel frustrated and burnt-out, leaving us with a feeling of, “how did I get myself into this mess?” and no real plan to climb out.

 Here are five emotional self-care resolutions for 2020:

 

1. Feel Your Emotions

 

Aside from happiness or anger, most adults aren’t comfortable sharing their feelings. 

Many people are willing to talk about butterflies in their stomachs or a lump in their throat because it feels less vulnerable than expressing their true feelings.

So, you may feel tempted to suppress negative feelings, but it’s healthy to feel them, accept them, and move on. Remember that emotions are not inherently “good” or “bad.” Experience what you’re feeling without judgment or guilt and allow yourself to process what you’re going through.

To stay in touch with your feelings, you can keep a daily journal where you’re honest about your feelings, write a list of “feeling words” to describe your feelings or sing along to the songs that best express your emotions.

writing emotional self care

2. Improve Your Relationships 

It’s easy to get so caught up in the day-to-day grind that you don’t set aside time for friends and family. But, studies show that spending time with loved ones is critical to your emotional well-being. 

Wherever you’re at and whatever relational needs you may have at the beginning of this year, keep seeking out connection and friendships. 

Life is astounding and a beautiful journey, but it can often be lonely. 

friends emotional self care

As Maya Angelou so brilliantly put it, 

“We need each other as we need the earth we share.”

3. Develop A Positive Perspective

Having a positive outlook can help you as you tune in to your emotions and actively care for yourself. 

Start your day with a positive affirmation. Although it may feel weird at first, starting your day with affirmations can help shape your mindset for the day. 

It also helps train your brain to think positively and boosts your self-confidence. 

Or instead of saying affirmations, start each day by writing three things you’re grateful for. Because even if things look tough for a day or the next few months, we can always find something to feel very thankful for in our lives. 

Stop and take a moment to list some good things in your life, and then thank the Lord for them.

 

4. Intentionally Create Quiet Time  

emotional self care

Life is full of emotional chaos, and we need moments of peace to be able to rest and rebalance our emotions. 

Whether you draw a hot bubble bath, go for a walk, or sit down to paint, take some time to feel refreshed and recharged. 

During this quiet time, silence your phone and learn to enjoy your own company and your thoughts. Let your thoughts roam free, and process all those suppressed and built-up emotions that cross your mind.

Infusing periods of quiet time into your everyday life can bring feelings of calm, patience, and rest and help restore your emotional health.

 

5. Heal Emotional Pain

Life dishes up so many hardships: heartbreak, illness, injury, death, abandonment. And sometimes we try to bear the burden of emotional pain and stop short of facing the sources of the pain. 

But pain is an invitation for God to move in and replace our faltering strength with His. 

We can go straight to the heart of the problem with a biblical solution. “Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray” (James 5:13). No matter how vast our pain, prayer is big enough to fill us with the realization of His presence like nothing else. 

prayer emotional self care

And James 4:8 says, 

“Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” 

 

This verse reminds us that when we draw near to Him, God will draw near to us. 

When we invite Him close, He always accepts our invitation. If we ask Him to help in the darkness of our hurt today, He will open wide the door to a much brighter tomorrow.

 

Here’s to a healthier, happier, and more hopeful you in 2020!


Understanding Emotional First Aid

Our way of everyday life is constantly threatened by events that loom in the near future — including natural disasters, economic crashes, and health epidemics. Reports show that 60% of men and 50% of women will experience at least one traumatic event during their lifetime. Surprisingly, much of this trauma can occur in the formative years of life — 40% of children and adolescents are exposed to a crisis, even in their early age.

Learning The Language

Before we can offer emotional first aid throughout the healing process we must first understand the following terms: 

 

Emergency A serious, unexpected, and often dangerous situation requiring immediate action 

Crisis A time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger that can be experienced both immediately and over time 

Trauma It is not the event that determines whether something is traumatic to someone, but the individual’s experience of the event and the meaning they make of it.

Critical Incident (Event) An event that can potentially overwhelm one’s usual coping mechanisms, resulting in physiological distress and impairment 

Psychological Crisis (Response) An acute response to a crisis, trauma, disaster or other incident overpowers one’s usual coping mechanisms 

Crisis Intervention (Emotional First Aid) Crisis intervention targets the response to the event. Psychological first aid, goals to stabilize, symptom reduction, return to adaptive function, facilitate access to continued care. 

Iceberg Effect (80/20 Rule) During a crisis approximately only 20% of the people are affected both physically and emotionally, while the other 80% are emotionally impacted. 

Secondary Injury A secondary injury is when the person in the midst of a crisis doesn’t get the support they need during the event. 

Catastrophic Events A crisis can turn into a catastrophic event when these factors are involved: 

  • Intensity of loss
  • Presence of children
  • Hazard in the aftermath
  • Duration of event 
  • Media involvement 
  • Size of the community 
  • Safe place non-existent

support with emotional first aid

Providing Care & Emotional First Aid

We’ve covered the different terms from emotional first aid, and now we can respond with compassion and CARE to prevent further damage and suffering. 

It is the biggest gift that you can give someone. Acknowledging that they’re in pain, being there ready to listen, being open, and being available.

And that doesn’t mean just physically being there. That means looking at them. Really truly, opening up your heart. Allow the Holy Spirit to come through and be their cushion, be their safe place.

The CARES Model

Here at Seeking Hope, we have the CARES model. That’s what we use to go through all the steps to understand how we care for someone. Christ asked us to care for his children. But how do we do that? This model will help break down the steps and what we look at to care for those in crisis.

 

C – Connect

The ‘C’ stands for connect. Making a connection and establishing rapport with someone who cares, acknowledges, and provides support during the crisis help victims recover. It is important that you, as the responder, were not directly affected by the current event.

A – Assess

The letter ‘A’ in the CARES model is for assessing. A responders role is to assess the specific symptoms and help the person in crisis express their feelings. Asking thoughtful questions helps a crisis victim discover the root cause of their pain and dispel any myths about the situation. By assessing these things we can move forward, create a plan, and help  victims to know that there’s going to be balance and that they can find hope moving forward. 

R  – Reassure

The ‘R’ in the CARES model. For our client, it’s unrealistic, for us it’s reassuring. Our client is facing some unrealized and unrealistic expectations. They want a dead person to come back to life. They want this to be different. They want a job that disappeared to show up again.

Their expectations are not realistic at all. How do we help find them? By reassuring that they have an opportunity to find balance in the circumstance that they find themselves in. It’s not easy, but by reminding them that there is hope, there is a tomorrow, and how to get there, we’ll make it happen. Our presence alone creates an environment of strength, stability, and balance. That’s what reassuring does. That’s our ‘R’ in the CARES model.

E – Enduring

The ‘E’ in our CARES model is enduring.  We know that a crisis isn’t resolved instantly, and caring for victims of trauma includes enduring through the stages of grief. As we help them to endure, it gives them hope, help them find their psychological balance so that they can move forward and make their own decisions. We give them a time pace, so they don’t feel rushed. But show them that they can endure this horrible tragedy and still come out tomorrow. That’s our ‘E’ in CARES model.

S  – Spiritual

The final in CARES is the ‘S’ – spiritual. After experiencing a traumatic event, as caregivers, we can come along as their spiritual guide. By gently providing guidance, we can remind them of God’s promise that they are not alone in their crisis. We believe that true hope is found in God, and we can bring that hope and give them the sense that they can move forward. That’s the ‘S’ in CARES.  

friends help with emotional first aid

Learn how to help others through emotional crisis the healthy and safe way. Click here to download your free CARES card and guide. Having your own CARES card to reference any time helps you provide an appropriate and powerful response to those who are struggling with a trauma.


talk through emotional trauma

How To Have a Conversation About Emotional Trauma

More than half of Americans will go through a traumatic event at least once in their lives. 

“Trauma is extremely common,” says Kristen R. Choi, PhD, a registered nurse and researcher at UCLA who studies trauma.

It can be challenging to know how to help someone you love and care for when they have gone through a crisis or emotional trauma. Starting the conversation and supporting them through their recovery is a great way to care for them. 

Don’t ever underestimate the power of person-to-person contact. Coping with trauma and crisis can be overwhelming, and your support may make a vital difference in the recovery process.

 

How Do You Start a Conversation About Trauma?

help with holiday stress

It’s natural to want to help someone you love to feel better again, but it’s essential to accept the trauma that has happened. Offering support to a loved one who is suffering can begin with a simple statement or open-ended question. 

  • “I’m so sorry ______ happened.”
  • “Can you tell me what happened?”
  • “How are you holding up right now?”
  • “What are you thinking and talking about in terms of ____________?”

And if some time has passed since the initial traumatic event, you can still start conversations about the event.

  • What do you miss the most?
  • What is the hardest part for you?
  • What is the hardest time of day for you?

When you first ask, the trauma survivor might say no and not want to talk. That’s okay. Asking helps to establish that you’re willing to listen, and you are someone they can trust if and when they are ready to talk. Your support and presence means more than you think.

 

Continuing The Conversation

conversation on emotional trauma

Once you’ve started the conversation about emotional trauma, it’s important to continue it and help them talk through their feelings. You can say:

  • I can’t imagine know how you feel, I only  remember how I felt when ________________ happened. (But don’t go into details unless specifically asked.)
  • I care about you. I care about how you’re feeling. Is there anything I can do to help?
  • Is there anything in your room/home you would like to change to feel more comfortable?
  • Would you like to talk about it?
  • I’m available (be specific, time, date, place), can we get together to talk?
  • When you are ready to talk about it, I’m here for you.
  • I’m thinking about you, especially today, because I’m aware that today is ________ (anniversary of the event, your birthday, etc.). I’m here to listen if you want to talk or just spend time together .
  • When is your special event (game, recital, rehearsal, etc.)? Would it be okay if I stop by?

 

When To Pause The Conversation

While talking through emotional trauma, there may be instances where talking could do harm.

Some trauma survivors find it difficult to talk about what happened. Don’t force your loved one to open up but let them know you are there to listen if they want to talk, or available to just hang out if they don’t.

  • Try not to discuss the trauma and/or post-traumatic stress symptoms at times of high stress or tension. If possible, wait for a time when you and your loved one are calm and when there are no distractions.
  • Avoid any further discussions with your traumatized loved one if he or she reacts strongly while discussing the trauma–or if you fear that he or she will. Wait until you can solicit the help of a mental health professional to facilitate the sharing process.

 

What To Expect

talking about emotional trauma

Discussing trauma can be hard for the survivor, and it can also be hard to hear the details as a supporter. Although every trauma and conversation is different, there are some common themes on what you can expect during your conversations:

  • Prepare yourself mentally and spiritually to hear things that may be difficult to listen to. Practices such as meditation, prayer, reading an inspirational passage, or making a call to a friend or a sponsor before you talk with your loved one about the trauma may help you stay calm and at peace, despite the difficult topic.
  • Plan to take things slowly– don’t expect a loved one to pour out every detail of his or her trauma the first time that you discuss it. It may take weeks, months, or even years to fully comprehend what your loved one has experienced. Be patient enough to let your loved one share as little or as much as he or she chooses and at a comfortable pace.
  • Focus on listening, instead of asking. During your conversations, asking too many probing questions could feel threatening and very unsettling. 
  • Respect your loved one’s wishes as they relate to creating a comfortable setting. Your loved one may want you to touch him or her as the two of you talk (holding a hand or putting a hand on an arm or leg), or he or she may reject any physical contact at all. Your loved one may want to sit face-to-face or prefer not to look at you at all. “It was hard for me to accept, but Sean usually preferred to sit in a chair across the room from me or stand behind me when we discussed anything related to his trauma or his post-traumatic stress symptoms.”

 

There is Hope

hope after emotional trauma

People can recover from trauma, and having a conversation can often be the first step. “Traumatic events are things that stay with us forever,” Nelba Márquez-Greene, a professional therapist, said. “They don’t have to negatively impact us forever, but they stay with us forever.”  With assistance, the right treatment, and a solid understanding of the healing process, you can help loved ones overcome trauma.