How to Take Care of Yourself When Tragedy Strikes
In November of 2015, the families in my south Florida community not only learned about horrific acts of terrorism that occurred in Paris, but about a small plane crash in Ohio that killed seven of our county’s residents. While I didn’t know them personally, some of my friends and people who read this blog mourned their loss. And now, more than two years later, we're grieving as a community again alongside the families of the 17 Stoneman Douglas victims.
After learning about a tragedy, it’s common for parents to want to protect their kids from feeling anxious or upset. But more than anything, kids pick up on your emotions and reactions and get their cues from you. They need you to take care of yourself so that you can take care of them, and so they can feel safe and protected amidst the disorder and despair.
Below are some tips for taking care of yourself when dealing with a tragedy:
– Accept whatever feelings you have when you have them. You might feel emotional numbness one minute and profound sorrow the next. That’s ok. The situation is abnormal, your reaction is not. When you acknowledge and accept your own feelings, you can be more emotionally available to your kids.
– Express your feelings. Talk to your spouse, friends, spiritual leaders, or a therapist. If talking isn’t your thing, you can write about your feelings and get them down on paper. Holding in your feelings can lead to increased anxiety and depression, and somatic symptoms.
You don’t need to hide your emotions from your kids, either. Children need good role models when it comes to handling loss and grief. Talk about your feelings honestly and use age-appropriate language, but be aware of your boundaries and remember that it’s your job to help them feel safe by being in control of yourself.
– Limit your time watching or reading about the event on your TV, computer, or phone. Spend time with your kids and other loved ones instead.
– Try to maintain your routines. This will help you feel more in control and will help your kids feel safer, too.
– Eat healthy meals and drink lots of water. Avoid eating lots of caffeine and sugar, or numbing out with alcohol, which can lead to even more problems in the long run.
– Tragedies remind us of our vulnerability and bring about feelings of powerlessness. Make opportunities to help those in need and create a positive difference in someone else’s life. Doing so can give you a sense of purpose when things feel beyond your control. This also teaches kids about the concept of community and kindness in times of hardship.
– Stress can drain you of the energy you need to take care of yourself and your family. Try to get to bed earlier than usual so you can get adequate rest.
– Move your body. Exercise, yoga, and other forms of physical movement help release stress and built-up tension.
– Practice gratitude. H.L. Menken said it best when he said, “In this world of sin and sorrow there is always something to be thankful for.”
If you're struggling with the aftermath of a tragedy now — may you find the strength and support to get through this difficult time. And if you know someone who needs this information, please share it with them.