Understanding Trauma, Big & Small

Trauma. It’s a word we’ve all heard, and have an idea of what it means. 

But for people who’ve experienced trauma or have loved ones who have, it’s essential to know the true definition and its implications.

 

What Is Emotional Trauma?

Psychology Today defines trauma as “a deeply disturbing event that infringes upon an individual’s sense of control and may reduce their capacity to integrate the situation or circumstances into their current reality.” 

Emotional trauma results from extraordinarily stressful events that shatter our sense of security and make us feel helpless in a dangerous world. 

Traumatic experiences often involve a threat to life or safety. But any situation that creates feelings of overwhelm or isolation can result in emotional trauma. 

With trauma, it’s not the objective circumstances, but your subjective emotional experience. The more frightened and helpless you feel, the more likely you will be traumatized from that event.

Emotional trauma can come from overtly distressing events like combat, natural disasters, or abuse. However, trauma can also come from less obvious events. These can be categorized as different types of trauma – big T and little t. 

 

Big “T” Trauma

Big “T” trauma is what most people think of when they hear the word trauma. 

Psychology Today defines big “T” trauma as “an extraordinary and significant event that leaves the individual feeling powerless and possessing little control in their environment.” 

 

These big “T” traumas are easily identified, like:

  • Natural disasters or catastrophic events
  • Terrorist attacks
  • Sexual or physical assault
  • Combat or war
  • Car or plane accident

 

Small “t” Trauma

Small “t” traumas are “events that exceed our capacity to cope and cause a disruption in emotional functioning,” according to Psychology Today. 

While these events aren’t inherently life-threatening, they can cause people to feel helpless in their circumstances. The accumulation of small “t” traumatic events can create similar traumatic responses to Big “T” trauma.

 

Examples of small “t” traumas include:

  • Conflict with family members
  • Infidelity or divorce
  • Conflict with a boss or coworker
  • A sudden or extended relocation or move
  • Planning a wedding 
  • Being laid off
  • Starting a new job
  • Having or adopting a child
  • Financial or legal worries

 

One little “t” trauma may not receive a PTSD diagnosis. However, studies have also shown that repeated exposure to little “t” traumas can cause more emotional harm than exposure to a single big “T” traumatic event. 

 

Impacts of Trauma

Trauma impacts everyone differently. Based on each person’s past experiences, beliefs, expectations, level of resilience, and ability to process the experience, trauma can manifest differently. 

Although each person who goes through trauma responds differently, there are common trauma symptoms, including:

  • Re-experiencing the trauma with nightmares or flashbacks
  • Powerful emotions and reactions
  • Feelings of fear, anxiety, anger, sadness, guilt, and numbness
  • Avoiding thinking or talking about the event
  • Changes in how you view the world, people around you, and yourself
  • A hyperactive nervous system, and a being on guard or seeing danger everywhere

 

If you’re experiencing trauma symptoms, know that there is nothing wrong with how you’re feeling! Many of the symptoms are your body and brain’s natural, healthy reaction to the trauma. 

Experiencing these symptoms for a short time is normal and healthy, but severe symptoms lasting for several months or longer are often categorized as PTSD. It’s important to be aware of your symptoms and how long they are lasting.

 

The Hope After Emotional Trauma

Trauma may have touched your life or the life of someone you love, and you’re feeling helpless, trying to process it. But you don’t have to suffer in silence! 

Treatments like therapy and medication, along with emotional support can help throughout recovery. Each treatment is different, but help survivors recall the memory of the trauma and address the memories, thoughts, and feelings.

At Seeking Hope, we have the unique privilege of training people to support victims on what is possibly the worst day of their lives. We’re here to help you learn how to rebuild – physically and emotionally, with online training and virtual emotional first aid coaching

There is no quick fix, and there are no “cures” for trauma. Some people successfully eradicate the impact of the traumatic memory on their lives, and others find significant improvement in their quality of life. 

Regardless, when trauma is on the table, avoidance does not work. Instead, the best way out is always through.

Navigating emotional trauma can be a process, and each person’s experience will be different. Take time to find coping methods, know that emotions are rarely linear, and be patient with yourself and your own unique experience.


Managing The Emotional Impact Of A Layoff

For over 33 million Americans who’ve filed for unemployment since mid-March, the coronavirus pandemic’s emotional stress includes dealing with the emotional trauma of job loss.

Being laid off can be an overwhelming, emotional, and stressful experience. For some people, a layoff could be a welcome relief from a demanding job or an opportunity for moving on in their life. But for most, a job loss carries a significant emotional impact.

Emotional Impact Of Job Loss

Unfortunately for many, losing their job may feel like the end of the world. Although millions of Americans are going through the same thing, losing a job often feels personal.

When you lose your job, do you feel like your life is still meaningful? Many individuals feel as though their success and worth are measured by the career they have. So when they lose a job, it’s so much more than losing income. Job loss also means losing a routine, a sense of regularity, relationships, and a purpose.

Because of this connection between self-worth and work, it’s common for people who’ve lost their jobs to experience emotional stress. Often, people who have lost their jobs blame themselves and wonder what they did wrong. They may also feel shame for not being able to provide and support the people in their lives.

These feelings are all common, natural, and completely okay to feel. But no matter how bleak things feel, there is hope. With time and the right coping techniques, you can ease your stress and anxiety, and move on with your working life.

 

Coping Strategies After Job Loss

Going through a layoff or job loss is an emotional experience, but there are coping strategies to survive the trauma and plan to move forward.

 

Address Feelings First During Layoffs

Layoffs are painful, and the experience can leave you feeling disoriented about your career and your future. Feelings of shame, rejection, sadness, and fear are common. It’s essential to address the emotions and identify them. Acknowledging your feelings and then challenging your negative thoughts will help you cope and move on.

 

Recreate Daily Routines

After losing a job, take time to recreate the daily patterns that you experienced before the layoff. Wake up at your usual time, get out of bed, and start your morning routine. The sooner you can recreate your prior regular patterns, the better your mental health will be. 

 

Focus On What You Can Control

Refocus from what is out of your control to what is in your control after losing a job. So, while you may no longer have control over your income, you have control over your budget. Make a short-term plan to cover your housing, food, bills, health, and other essential needs. Know who to contact to ease financial stress and emotional stress. 

 

Reach Out To The Right People

Sometimes, it can be helpful to bring a neutral third party, such as a therapist or emotional first aid coach, to talk through personal challenges. A neutral third party who is familiar with emotional trauma and stress may be able to guide you through your own experience.

 

Shelly Pinomaki, the founder of Seeking Hope, offers emotional first aid coaching in person and online. Click here to learn more! 

 

Stop The Spiral Of Self-doubt

A layoff can be isolating, especially if you had been sheltering in place and working remotely. Remember that you’re far from alone, and most people experience employment gaps at some point. 

One study found that 40% of American workers have been terminated at least once. You’re not alone in what you’re feeling or experiencing

So reach out to your network and talk. Look for ways to provide value, to solve problems. The refocused mindest can set you on a positive cycle rather than a vicious and negative spiral of self-doubt.

 

Look Ahead

There may come a time where it’s helpful to think about the long-term. For so many people, these trying experiences contain growth opportunities. It’s not comforting when you’re in the middle of a personal crisis, but it’s true, and there are opportunities in every disappointment.

 

When you’ve worked through handling the immediate impact of losing your job, you may be able to take a step back and reconsider the next phase in your career.

 

Sources

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/21/smarter-living/coronavirus-laid-off-career-advice.html 

https://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/job-loss-and-unemployment-stress.htm


Managing Anxiety During Community Reopening

With so many difficult decisions to make, here are eight strategies to manage anxiety in the new normal.

 

When COVID-19 lockdowns began, it felt, for many people, unfathomable to stay home nearly 24/7. But for many, it now feels equally strange—and nerve-wracking—to do anything else after months cocooned inside. Psychologists have dubbed the phenomenon “re-entry anxiety.”

 

As society reopens, not everyone is ready. Millions of people face new and difficult decisions about staying safe. Is day camp too risky? Can we visit our grandparents? Should our teenagers be trusted to socialize safely? Will the schools return in the fall? Will jobs come back?

 

Many are struggling to manage their anxiety with no clear road map and so many difficult and confusing choices to make. Try these eight strategies to manage anxiety and relax your mind during the reopening process. 

 

1. Start Small

“Exposure therapy” is safely confronting sources of fear, and it’s the gold-standard treatment for many fear and anxiety disorders. The same tactic may help with anxiety as communities reopen.

 

2. Recognize Your Emotions

peace with emotional self care

When you feel anxious, recognize it. Tell yourself, “that’s my anxiety.” Just putting a label on our feelings helps reduce their power over us.

 

3. Focus On What You Can Control

When you feel anxious, take a minute to examine the things you have control over. While we can’t prevent a storm, we can prepare for it. We can’t control the world and other’s actions, but we can control our reactions. 

 

4. Be Flexible

Some days may feel better than others. After reopening, some days may not go the way we expect them to go. We may have to wait in line, and things may take longer than expected. Flexibility will help you navigate those challenges and changes. 

 

5. Practice Gratitude

Focusing on the positives is a powerful response to anxiety. Expressing gratitude helps keep you in a positive mindset and connect with others. Say a simple, heartfelt thank-you, or make a list of what you’re grateful for. 

 

6. Take A Breath

Breath in and out. These deep breaths help our bodies calm down and refocus. With breathing exercises, we don’t need to worry about counting out a certain number of breaths. Instead, focus on evenly inhaling and exhaling. This will help slow down and re-center your mind.

7. Set Expectations in The Morning

Anxiety often begins even before we open our eyes in the morning. As the day begins, we can feel like victims of circumstance and dwell on potential problems and feared failures. Decide first thing in the morning what kind of day it will be. What quality of thoughts will you cultivate? How will you find joy? Who will you love?

 

8. Take Breaks

Turn off the noise. Turn off the news, unplug from social media, go offline, and don’t feel guilty about it. While we want to stay informed, there is also an overwhelming amount of information, some of which aren’t accurate. Social media and news can cause unnecessary and avoidable anxiety. If your life starts to feel like a record on replay, give yourself permission to switch gears and focus on something completely different.

 

9. Seek Help

conversation about emotional trauma

If your anxiety seems overwhelming — if you’re having trouble sleeping, eating, or interacting in the ways you usually would — get help. Let your family and friends know if you feel like you’re struggling.

 

You might find Seeking Hope’s emotional first aid telecoaching useful. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help during this stressful time! With empathy, understanding, and emotional first aid, we will make it through this together.

 

Anxiety is common, but it doesn’t have to be a part of your new normal. Be kind to yourself. You are doing the best you can.


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/