Marriage and Family Therapist
Cyndi Sarnoff-Ross is a licensed psychotherapist with almost twenty years of clinical experience in the fields of clinical psychology and organizational management. She has worked extensively with a wide variety of…
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Handling the Emotional Aftermath of A Tragedy: The Boston Bombings
Posted in Bereavement by Cyndi Sarnoff-Ross on Apr 18, 2013
It is difficult to write about a tragedy just after it has occurred because it forces us to review the details of a horrific event-- but it is cathartic as well. Looking at the Boston bombing through a magnifying glass reveals both unthinkable sadness and acts of amazing courage. The loop of video on the television showing the explosion over and over and over again also captures the many helpers who ran to the aide of those injured and those possibly still in harm’s way. Without regard for their own safety in many cases, people just acted out of instinct to help and to heal. On a day that we are witness to the evil deeds of evil people in this world, we are reminded of the incredible goodness that exists in humanity. Thankfully, kind souls are far more prevalent than those soulless, heartless, less-than-humans that perpetrated these tragic events.

The American Psychological Association (APA) offers tips for dealing with the aftermath of tragedy and disaster. People’s first response is typically shock and denial and these responses serve to protect us and help us to begin to cope with the reality of the painful event. You can clearly see the evidence of shock on the faces of those in the news footage just following the explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

Reactions that follow that initial response vary by individual but there are many common and normal responses to a traumatic event. Irritability, moodiness, flashbacks and even physical symptoms such as a rapid heartbeat and sweating are fairly common. Sleeping and eating patterns may be interrupted. We may also see a disruption in relationships, and increase in conflict, due to the stress and moodiness that may occur and the strain placed on entire families who may be affected by the tragedy.

An anniversary of the event may bring all of these symptoms back even if they have long subsided. Obviously the degree to which the event touches your life will dictate the severity of the response, but often a tragic event that does not involve you may trigger a memory that brings to mind a personal experience of an event that did touch your life more closely. On April 15th, 2013 Americans everywhere were saddened by the events of that day and painfully reminded once again of the other bombings we have experienced on American soil in our lifetime.

The APA advises people to give themselves time to adjust to the news. And for those closely affected, to allow themselves to mourn their losses and to expect changes in their emotional state. If you are directly affected by the events, then it is crucial that you talk about your feelings to those close to you and that you seek out support groups and professionals who can focus on this type of recovery. Give yourself a break from the usual stressors of life, which may mean taking some time off of work or school, but try to begin to reestablish routines such as mealtimes and your regular exercise program. Avoid making any major life decisions, such as moving, changing jobs or any other high stress changes. Finally, take extra care of yourself by eating right and avoiding the use of alcohol and other substances as a way of dealing with your pain and emotions.

Watch for any dramatic changes with children such as continued aggressive behavior or emotional outbursts. Reports of problems at school or changes in sleeping and eating patterns can also be a sign that children are not coping well in the aftermath of a tragedy.

We are a nation filled with sadness and compassion for our Bostonian brothers and sisters and for those who traveled from near and far to be a part of the wonderful tradition of the Boston marathon. But we are also an incredibly resilient people who pull together and help one another in times of need. The stories continue to come in about the many doors that were opened to strangers after the explosion and the overwhelming response of medical professionals and others offering their service. All day on April 15th people posting on social media networks were writing words of condolence and support and offering reminders to look for the good in people even when evil abounds. My thoughts and prayers go out to all of those who have been affected by the tragedy in Boston. My heavy heart is lifted only by the recognition of the good people that appeared in droves to offer assistance, many of whom will likely be there for the long haul of healing to come.


Many have posted the words of the beloved childhood staple Mr. Rogers, which I am heartened to see and which are worth repeating once again.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.” —Fred Rogers

- Cyndi

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I know the bombings and the horrific period of time where the bomber was seen in the town two miles away from me heightened my symptoms of PTSD. I can now understand, unfortunately, what people in other countries have to live with every single day. I pray this does not become a normal way of life in the USA.
By Debf1963  Apr 23, 2013
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it's just that the evil ones can cause so much damage...
By justKate  Apr 21, 2013
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raw food
By josefclark  Apr 20, 2013
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Thank you for these helpful words!
By ThePepperMan  Apr 18, 2013
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