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Coping With Trauma

Coping With Trauma
Coping With Trauma


Duke Health News Duke Health News

Although trauma affects people differently, such events as
this week's terrorist attacks can create strong emotional and
physical reactions. While reactions could appear almost
immediately, they tend to occur hours, a few days, and
sometimes even weeks later. It is common, in fact quite normal,
for people to experience such reactions if they have
experienced or witnessed a horrible event. The information
below can be helpful- to know what kinds of reactions may
occur, and how to help yourself and your children cope now.

Common Responses to Traumatic Events: These are some
temporary reactions that may occur following serious events,
and which may "come and go" with time.

Emotional Reactions

Shock, numbness, feeling "lost in a fog"

Re-playing the images in your mind

Anxiety, fear, or feeling helpless

Irritability, Anger

Extreme sadness

Diminished concentration, lapses in memory

Wanting to withdraw from others

Physical Reactions

Difficulty sleeping, nightmares


Hyper-arousal, "nervous energy", or easily startled

Appetite changes


Tightness in chest, difficulty breathing

Tips for Coping with the Aftermath of Traumatic Events

Maintain as normal a schedule as possible, but don't

Realize that you may temporarily function below your normal
pace and ability for a little while

Spend time with others, talk to people, share your feelings,
reach out

Offer assistance in ways that help you combat feeling
helpless (e.g. donate blood, food, donations)

Maintain physical activities

Get plenty of rest

Continue healthy eating, and beware of trying to numb pain
with overuse of alcohol and other drugs

Remember that these are normal reactions to traumatic
events. Usually such reactions to traumatic events will lessen
with time. However, if you are experiencing reactions that are
intense and that persist, or interfere with your ability to
carry on with your life in your usual manner, you may wish to
seek help.

How to Help Your Children

Children react to trauma in different ways, much like adults
do. The way children react often depends on their age, what
information or images they have been exposed to, and how their
parents and other important adults around them react. Children
may feel overwhelmed by intense feelings, confused, and not
know how to deal with this. Child experts state that the
parents' attitudes and reactions will be the single most
powerful factor in helping their children cope.

Here are some ways in which parents may help their

Young children under the age of 7 should be protected as
much as possible from news of the events. This is so excessive
worry and anxiety is not created in the first place. Although
it may not be possible to completely shelter them, it would be
helpful to minimize their exposure to the details of the
events. This means young children should not watch television
coverage, or hear radio reports, or listen to adults talking
about the traumas and their aftermath.

For slightly older children, say 8-12, parents may not be
able to shelter them from as much. However, you can limit the
amount of television coverage your child sees, and watch

If you talk about the event, be honest and keep discussion
brief. Wait to see what questions your children may have before
giving additional information, as they may only want to know
"so much."

Parents and others need to provide reassurance to these
children that horrible events like these are extremely rare,
and convey a sense of security. Let them know you are there to
take care of them, and reassure them that they are safe.

Maintain normal routines and schedules as much as possible.
These routines help children feel comfortable and secure.

Acknowledge that these kinds of events can create all sorts
of feelings. Tell your child it's normal to feel worried, sad,
and upset. Let your child know it's OK to talk about their
feelings, and be patient as they do.

Provide "extra" loving, attention, and understanding if your
child expresses feelings through behavior, like crying, being
clingy, fearful, having nightmares. If these occur, are
particularly intense and don't improve within a week or two,
you should consider consulting their pediatrician or other

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