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Tragedy - coping afterwards

tragedy; disaster; terrorism; death; loss; grief; coping; anxiety; anger; post; traumatic; PTSD; media; TV; bomb; earthquake; fire; bushfire.;

Contents

It can sometimes seem that every time you turn around there has been another tragedy - tragedies overseas, tragedies in your country, tragedies in your neighbourhood and even tragedies in your family. When we hear about tragedies in which people are hurt or killed, we can experience many strong emotions, which can seem overwhelming.

Feelings after a tragedy

  • Shock and disbelief. "That can't be real".
    • Denial and disbelief are ways we cope immediately after hearing about a tragedy. This is a way of not becoming totally overwhelmed by the tragedy.
  • Numbness. It can even seem like you feel nothing. The tragedy was so shocking that you feel none of your emotions are working at all.
  • Scared. Feeling afraid for your safety is a normal reaction to news of a tragedy.
    • When terrorists, for example, attack innocent people, or there is a natural disaster, it is normal to think twice about how safe you your family and your friends are.
    • Being worried about the future is another common reaction. "What will the world turn out like?" "What's going to happen to me?"
  • Sad. The pain and destruction that tragedies can cause leave us feeling upset for those who are suffering.
  • Angry. Anger is a natural emotion.
    • It is normal to feel some anger when violence is used on others, or when people are hurt for no reason.
    • The problem is that people often use this anger inappropriately and add to the cycle of violence.
    • Anger should never be used to hurt others.
    • While others are expressing their anger you may hear them blame groups or whole races for the tragedy. This is born from prejudice and only makes things worse.
    • Read Anger for more.

It is normal to go through a range of emotions after a tragedy, and finding ways to accept the emotions is a good idea. Trying to escape the emotions by using drugs, alcohol, self harm, avoiding people or other unhealthy strategies will only lead to more problems.

Coping with your feelings

  • Talk. Nothing will help more than sharing your feelings.
    • Talking to your family, friends or a trusted adult will allow you to figure out what's going on inside your head.
    • The best thing is that you'll be helping them as well, and chances are they are going through the same thing.
  • Express yourself. There are other ways to express yourself apart from talking.
    • Go for a run, play some music, dig a garden, workout in the gym or whatever helps you to work through strong feelings.
    • Some people find keeping a diary is a good way to pour out feelings.
    • How about painting a picture or doing some other form of artwork.
    • Read Exercise for more ideas.
  • Put things into perspective. What really are the chances that a natural disaster or terrorist attack will affect you?
    • Although ugly things sometimes happen, the chances of you being injured are very small.
    • With all the terrible things on the news every night, it sometimes doesn't seem that way.
    • While many people feel that it is important to keep up to date with what is going on in the world, if you feel it is causing you distress, it is probably a good idea to limit how much TV or radio you expose yourself to.
  • Remind yourself of all the good things that are happening in the world and all of the people who are working for a good cause.
  • Take it one day at a time. If you find you are worried about the future try and take each day as it comes.
    • If you are having a bad day, let it go and move into tomorrow.
    • Plan for each day and try not to look too far forward.
  • Come together. These are the times when you should get together with your family and friends.
    • Giving a friend a hug at times when you are feeling distressed can make a big difference.
    • Maybe you could even tell your loved ones how much you care about them.
  • Look after yourself. When we feel stressed or overwhelmed, it is easy to let things slip.
    • If you keep a healthy diet and do some regular exercise you will feel better, both physically and mentally.
    • Keep up your normal routines - walk the dog, ride your bike or cook a meal.
  • Be sensitive. If you are feeling strong emotions, it is likely others are also.
    • Try to remember this when you are talking to them.
    • They may still be dealing with the information themselves.
    • You cannot control how others react; you can only control how you act.
    • Try to set a good example and add to the positive. This is where you have the power.
  • Try to make a difference. It often seems like there is nothing you can do to help in major tragedies. Although you may not be able to protect people or offer direct help, there are many small but important things that you could do.
    • Write a letter to the media about how you feel.
    • Donate blood (if you are over 16).
    • Try to raise money for victims or a charity.
    • Join a peace group.
    • Write a letter of sympathy.
    • Join in a religious commemoration of your own faith or belief.
    • Many people helping in their own way really makes the difference.

If you find your feelings are affecting your daily life in major ways it may be a good idea to seek help. We all get overwhelmed at times, it is only natural. Talk to your doctor or go to a counsellor if you feel you are not coping very well.

Resources

South Australia

General

  • Red Alert! is a collection of digital stories from young people in Queensland. The stories talk about personal experiences of cyclones, bushfires, severe storms and floods. They also give helpful tips on what to do in the event of a disaster in your town:
    http://www.emergency.qld.gov.au/redalert.asp
  • To search for a helpline in your state check out Helplines Australia 
    http://www.helplines.org.au/

Some of the organisations which provide support to people who have experienced a disaster:

Further reading

Australian Council on Children and the Media 'Effects of violence in the media'
http://www.youngmedia.org.au/mediachildren/02_violence.htm

Reachout 'After someone has died'
http://www.reachout.com.au/default.asp?ti=268 

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Youth Healthline on 1300 13 17 19 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).
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