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Dealing with a tragedy

tragedy; crisis; natural; disaster; emotions; feelings; coping; cope; sorrow; fear; feelings; anger; tsunami; bushfires; death; grief; terrorists; terror; war; media; earth; quakes; die; dying; flood;


It can sometimes seem that every time you turn around there has been another tragedy. These might have happened overseas, in your country, in your neighbourhood, among your friends and even 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.
  • Numb. 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 there is a natural disaster such as a bushfire, earthquake or tsunami, or someone is killed in a car accident or murdered, or terrorists attack someone, or there is a war, it is normal to think twice about how safe you 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 caused by tragedies can 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 people, or groups, or whole races, for the tragedy. This is born from prejudice and only makes things worse.

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. It's likely you'll be helping them as well. Chances are they are feeling very upset too.
  • Do something. Go for a run, play some music, dig in the 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?
  • Put things into perspective. What really are the chances something will happen to you or your family and friends? Although horrible things do sometimes happen, the chances of you or those close to you being harmed are small. With all the terrible things on the news repeated every night, it sometimes doesn't seem that way. It is important to keep up to date with what is going on in the world, but if you feel it is causing you distress, it is probably a good idea to limit how much TV or radio you watch or listen to.
  • Remind yourself of all the good things that are happening in your community and the world, and about 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 to 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 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 those people or offer direct help, there are many small but important things that you could do in your own community.
    • 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 make the difference.
  • Get help. 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 a counsellor if you feel you are not coping very well.

You might find the topic Post-traumatic stress disorder of interest.


South Australia


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

Further reading

Young Media Australia. 'Effects of violence in the media':

Reachout. 'After someone has died':

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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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