Try these 5 tips for managing a traumatic event as a starting point if you are in an intense situation. With the recent Bushfires around Australia it seems timely to put out some tips on how to cope with difficult situations. They can be useful if you have been personally impacted or if you are experiencing distress vicariously.
Depending on things like your specific situation, overall emotional hardiness, or the support system that is available to you the impact may be quite different. The experience of trauma is very subjective. You might think of this like how we have different pain thresholds of how we experience physical pain. What may seem crushing to one person may be a mere annoyance to another.
There is a wide range of circumstances that may prompt a trauma response in someone. Some of the more obvious ones are natural disasters, being on a battlefield, accidents, major injuries, or assaults. Those would be what we might call capital case T traumas. Though there may be more everyday garden-variety situations that are emotionally distressing. You could think of those as lower case t traumas.
Vicarious trauma is the term used to describe the experience of individuals who experience a traumatic event second-hand. In certain situations, the impact is spread to several people who do not directly experience the event. This would typically include first responders e.g. police, ambulance, or fire fighters who show up to assist someone in an accident. Though during the current Bushfires many of these individuals are on the front lines and experiencing the fires, injuries and loss firsthand. There may be others who also experience something similar e.g. suicide hotline workers, doctors, nurses, or loved ones of someone who was directly impacted.
- If it works for you keep doing it. When you are actually traveling okay despite being in a difficult situation keep it up. If exercising or keeping some version of your normal routine is working for you to feel balanced embrace that.
- Lean into your thoughts / feelings. Once you are no longer in physical danger you can allow yourself to reflect on how the situation impacted you. There isn’t a right answer so if you are mad, sad or whatever it is best you just own it.
- Lean on your pack. We are pack animals for a reason. We do well when we have others to depend on or share our thoughts and feelings.
- Accept you may be having a normal response to an abnormal situation. Things like feeling anxious, depressed, jumpy, irritable, fearful, sleeping poorly, emotion numbness, anger etc. are normal. It is not unusual to experience these things immediately following a traumatic event.
- Stay grounded. Focusing on the things you can control is helpful mentally. It is also useful to practice things to help regulate your emotions. Depending on your personal preferences that may be things like meditation, massage, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation etc. These all help you dial back the intensity of your feelings if they are getting too strong.
There are several types of support available for individuals managing a traumatic event like the current Bushfires. Medicare has made additional rebates available for counselling to assist those impacted by the situation. There are also a few NGOs who are coordinating volunteer counsellors to offer some free therapy sessions either in person or via video. There is a free SMS counselling service as well. Below are just a few of the services that are becoming available.