Psychological first aid: coping with a tragedy

By Kate Kominars, licensed psychologist, associate director and director of clinical operations at FIU’s Counseling and Psychological Services Center.

Kominars Headshot.jpgIn the aftermath of the Orlando nightclub shooting, many are experiencing a sense of loss in terms of personal safety and of confidence in the good of humanity. For one’s health, is essential to take time and devote attention to work through certain thoughts and feelings.

There are some expected emotional stages that people experience in what can be described as a grieving process, although the stages are not to be considered as a linear step-by-step, stage-by-stage road map for everyone. The stages consist of denial, anger, bargaining, despair and acceptance. People do not always experience these stages in the same order. It is also common to experience a stage, move to another one and then cycle back around to a previously experienced stage. This can be quite perplexing and disturbing. Resolution takes time and effort.

All of this may be challenging and frightening to navigate without some guidance. In the midst of emotional distress, perspective is difficult to alter. So, if you find that you are stuck, don’t hesitate to reach out for help.

Here are 10 recommendations for coping with the aftermath of the Orlando attack:

  1. Avoid alcohol, caffeine and other mind/mood altering chemicals. They get in the way of experiencing and processing sadness, anger, fear and other emotions, not to mention that they disturb your sleep cycle.
  2. Physical exercise will help you sleep. Without sleep, difficult times and painful emotions are even harder to handle.
  3. Know that you are not alone. Give yourself permission to give and receive emotional support from people you care about and trust.
  4. Be gentle and compassionate with yourself. Don’t beat yourself up for feeling sad or upset.
  5. Face your emotions. Feel them. Reassure yourself that these feelings will diminish in intensity over time.
  6. Pay attention. Focus on where you put your keys. Write down the tasks/deadlines that you have so they don’t slip your mind.
  7. Support your body. Breathe deeply. Eat healthy food.
  8. Know that your mind will try to make sense of events, even where there is no sense to be found. Be patient.
  9. Limit your exposure to media coverage. Tune in and tune out. Keeping the information flowing can lead to overwhelming feelings.
  10. If necessary, seek help. Students may call 305-348-2277 or come in to Counseling and Psychological Services to speak with someone. We are located in the Student Health Center suite 270 at MMC and Wolfe University Center suite 320 at BBC. A 24-hour hotline is also available at 305-348-3000. Faculty and staff may seek help at the Office of Employee Assistance by calling 305-348-2469.

Featured photo by Take Back Your Health Conference / CC BY