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Coping with traumatic events and tragic news

Sometimes the news can feel overwhelming and like it is only getting worse. Traumatic events can be sudden and unexpected. It is common to feel helpless, confused, angry or worried. It’s hard to understand why these things happen, or what it means for the future. Sometimes we might feel nothing at all. While there is no standard way to feel or act, there are some ways that you can recognize the signs of extreme stress in yourself and those around you, how you can practice self-care and how you can help support others.

Here are some tips:
  • Events like this can cause feelings of uncertainty, frustration and anxiety. Be patient with yourself and those close to you – it takes time to manage feelings.
  • Avoid isolation. Spend time with family and friends, offer your support. Hug one another and listen.
  • Take care of yourself. Eat healthy, drink plenty of water, and get enough rest.
  • If you are feeling overwhelmed, consider taking a break from the news and social media.
  • Encourage your child/children to talk about their feelings. Listen to them. Be honest when you also are feeling sad, afraid, worried, but that you are there to work through it together.
  • Provide reassurance to your children that the family is safe. Repeat this as often as possible! Keep close to them and hold them. Touch provides extra reassurance that someone is there for them.
  • Provide children with age-appropriate but factual information about what happened.
  • Watch for signs of stress in your family, friends, and children. Get help from others if it is needed. These signs can be physical as well as emotional, such as:
    • Sleeping problems
    • Muscle tension and body pains
    • Headaches
    • Poor concentration
    • Guilt
    • Anger
    • Sadness
    • Trying to avoid being reminded of the events (trying to avoid being triggered)
    • Nausea
    • Fixating on the event
    • Withdrawing from other people
    • You might feel nothing at all
  • You don’t have to be directly impacted to experience stress over a traumatic event, such as one you are watching on the news. Your feelings are still valid.
A person holds another person's hand to comfort them

It’s not always easy to know what to say when someone is grieving, here are some ideas:
  • Say nothing, just be present with them
  • Acknowledge their loss (“I heard your ____ passed away”)
  • I wish I had the right words, just know I care
  • I don’t know how you feel, but I am here to support in any way I can
  • I can’t imagine what you’re going through
  • You are in my thoughts
  • May I give you a hug?
  • We all need support at times like this, don’t be afraid to reach out
  • Not everyone is comfortable reaching out, so don’t forget to check in with your loved ones – even the ones who seem the most strong
What to avoid saying when someone is grieving:
  • It will be okay
  • They are in a better place
  • There is a reason for everything/Everything happens for a reason
  • I know exactly how you feel/what you’re going through
  • It was their time to go
  • Be strong
  • Statements that begin with “you should” or “you will”
While these reactions and feelings are normal, if you continue to feel overwhelmed, can’t shake the feelings of despair, or have anxiety, panic, depression, persistent bad dreams, seek help through your healthcare provider, family, or community organization. Asking for help is a sign of strength.

You can find additional resources about handling extreme stress here:
Free downloadable psychological first aid guide
Coping with crisis wellness resources 
Guide to recovery for parents and caregivers
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