How to Cope Through the Vegas Tragedy

A very common question for people who have gone through a traumatic event to ask is,

“Will I ever get through this and be okay again?”

The answer is yes. With support, knowledge, education, and time, you will once again feel like you are on solid ground.

“When will I start feeling better?”

There is no specific timeline for healing. Everyone’s timing is different.  However, to heal more quickly you need to actively seek education and support.

What NOT to do

If you decide to isolate, self-medicate, or stay in denial, you stay miserable and will end up feeling worse over time. Problems do not go away on their own. In fact, when you fail to deal with issues, they grow exponentially worse. It’s a myth to believe “Time heals all wounds.” Time may help a person not feel the emotions as intensely, but “time” in and of itself will not “fix” anything. It requires you to invest in yourself and do the work.                                    

Emotional and physical symptoms that appear after going through trauma

 

Racing heartbeat                                                                        Blaming yourself

Nightmares                                                                                    Numb

Can’t sleep                                                                                     Jumpy; startled by loud noises

Agitated                                                                                          Aching in your bones

Tense muscles and body pain in certain areas          Racing thoughts

Exhaustion                                                                                    Denial, disbelief, and shock

Confused                                                                                      Can’t concentrate

Angry                                                                                               Irritable

Anxious, sweaty palms                                                           Afraid

Guilty                                                                                               Ashamed

Want to isolate                                                                           Withdraw from people and places

Feeling sad, helpless and/or hopeless                            Disconnected

You need to understand how your brain works in relation to trauma

Your mind and body are connected and work together, so when you go through trauma, your brain traps the experience and so does your body. We have nerve cells around our lungs, heart, gut and in some muscles that act like miniature brains.  During trauma, all your senses are ultra-heightened, and everything about the experience overwhelms your brain and body.  Your brain, gut, heart, lungs, and muscles work together to scream, “Hey, react now!  This is life or death.”  This is what we call survival mode. This is a good thing to have kick in during a trauma.

Here is the problem later

You will be sitting at a firework show on 4th of July, for example, and fireworks will start popping.  Your body and brain will make an instant computer-like match to a similar memory of the previous trauma and immediately, before you have time to think straight, emergency alarms  go off inside of you to let you know, “Warning! Warning! It’s happening all over again.”  But in reality it is not.  Your brain and body just pulled up stored information from the previous experience, matching current sensory matches to the memory, and is alerting you to protect you thinking it’s doing you a favor.

Your body responds without thinking.  Your heart races, hands sweat, you feel like you’re going to faint and you’re in a full-blown panic attack reliving the past experience believing it’s happening again because your body told you so before you had time to process anything rationally. Knowing your body stores memories and can falsely pull those memories up again when there is not a real crisis at hand, can trigger a trauma response that is false.  However, if you get educated on how your brain and body work, you can prevent anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress responses later. This is why getting proper help and guidance is so important.

Knowledge is definitely your power during a time like this. You can learn how to calm your nervous system down and begin healing. Learning how to manage your emotions appropriately gives you a sense of control.  Believing you can control your body and mind going forward is key because when you went through the trauma, there was no control.

Important first steps

If you start to panic or you or feel disoriented find somewhere to sit down and begin mindful breathing. Take slow inhales through your nose counting to six, then slowly exhale out of your mouth for six.  Do this for a few minutes. What will happen is your rational brain will kick back on and you can begin to think straight.

After doing several rounds of the breathing exercise, you can say to yourself,

“I know what’s happening to my body.  It just made a computer-like match to something familiar to what I went through before. I’m not actually going through that again. My body and brain are feeling or seeing something familiar and it is just trying to protect me but actually I am okay.

I am not in danger or in a life or death situation right now. I am okay.”

“Through all the mess, is there a right way to grieve?”

No.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.  Grief comes in all kinds of different ways with a variety of feelings.  Grieve the way you need to grieve.  Feel what you need to feel.  Be how you need to be.  Don’t judge yourself.  Whatever you are feeling is because you need to feel it.  Stifling how you feel will prolong the pain.  The only way out of it is through it.

The quickest road to healing

If you want to feel better faster, get moving.

  • Seek a professional support group that deals with coping skills for grief, loss and trauma
  • Meet with a professional therapist who is specially trained in this area
  • Actively seek reading material about how to heal trauma, grief, and loss (Elizabeth Kubler Ross is a great place to start)
  • Talk and share your story
  • Surround yourself with patient, kind, and compassionate people
  • Do not judge yourself for how you feel, what you think, and how you are handling your experience

 

Dilyse Diaz, L.M.F.T.  is a nationally recognized mental health expert and Licensed Psychotherapist. Tragedy hit home for Dilyse as she lost a very special friend in the Las Vegas Massacre. Dilyse is here to help. In honor of her friend, John Phippen, she will be holding a private support group free of charge for those who were present at the Vegas massacre. 661-904-0113