The Emotional Response to Terror: 6 Ways of Coping

Posted by Angela Cantwell, MSN on Sep 21, 2016 1:21:17 PM

new_york_terror_peace_signs.jpgIn light of the terror attacks that have recently occurred, Angela Cantwell, MSN, clinical director for Nursing for Behavioral Health for Einstein Healthcare Network, offers these tips for staying calm and moving forward: 

It’s natural for people to feel afraid, outraged, sad, helpless, guilty, or insecure immediately following a traumatic event such as a terrorist attack.

People may have an emotional response that’s accompanied by physical responses, such as an upset stomach, feeling like you may cry at any moment, feeling nervous, having a rapid heart rate or breathing, or feeling dizzy or faint.  

In response to a terror attack, people can become more vigilant—alert and aware of their surroundings, which is a normal, healthy response to fear. However, living in constant fear, or cutting ourselves off from our daily activities is not the healthiest way to address what we’re feeling. People who carry out terroristic activity are emboldened and empowered to continue their efforts if we, as a society, succumb to their tactics.

To help us move forward after such an event:

  1. Allow for feelings. Identify and recognize the emotions you’re feeling so you can take steps to move past them. Share your thoughts with others in a constructive way, but don’t allow your emotions to take over and immobilize you.
  2. Find a healthy way to cope. Exercise. Get outside in nature away from noise and people. Learn deep breathing and positive visualization techniques. Laugh with friends and family. Get involved in an important social cause. Volunteer to help others. These are all things we can do to help replace negative emotions with positive ones, and lead us back to normalcy.
  3. Have a plan.  If you have to be in an environment where you may feel uncomfortable such as in a large crowd, take steps to be safe. Note where the exits to the area are located. Think about how and who you would report suspicious activity to. Be aware of what you are capable and willing to do to ensure your safety and the safety of loved ones if an emergency arises, and be prepared to take those steps if needed. Having a plan can alleviate some of the anxiety of the situation.
  4. Stay connected to your support systems. Don’t stop socializing out of fear of what “might” happen. Get to know your neighbors, get involved in your community. Sharing your thoughts and experiences with others can be uplifting and supportive.
  5. Limit media exposure. Stay informed, but don’t watch the news every minute of the day. Avoid watching clips where traumatic events are replayed over and over. Take a break from information overload and get connected with yourself and what really matters to you.
  6. Don’t be afraid to seek help. If symptoms such as difficulty functioning at home or work, impaired concentration or sleep, avoidance of your day to day activities, replaying the traumatic event in your head, or a preoccupation with death or dying, last for more than six weeks, it’s time to seek help.  Call 1-800-EINSTEIN to schedule an appointment with a trained professional. 

Topics: Behavioral Health

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Perspectives highlights the expertise and services provided by the physicians, specialists, nurses and other healthcare providers at Einstein Healthcare Network. Through this blog, we share information about new treatments and technologies, top-tier clinical teams and the day-to-day interactions that reinforce our commitment to delivering quality care with compassion. Here, you will also find practical advice for championing your health and wellness.

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