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  • Writer's pictureSarah Plyler

Coping After Tragedy

Updated: Dec 10, 2019

It seems as though traumatic events are occurring at an alarming rate within our country and communities. If you have not been directly impacted by a recent traumatic event, you likely know someone who has. The recent gun shooting and natural disasters have left many feeling scared, displaced, and utterly confused on how to move forward and make sense of these devastating experiences.

There are times when we cannot make sense of a tragedy. There are more “Why” questions than there are answers. You do not have to have the answers to all the “whys.” People may try to answer these “whys” for you and unintentionally invalidate your experience by giving a broad stroke solution to your intimately complex experience. While you wait to come to your own understanding of the “whys,” please know that HEALING can occur in the meantime through compassionate self-care and attention. Although you cannot change the events that have occurred, you do have the power to choose how you take care of yourself while you move through it. I recommend using the following acronym: BREATHE


Be aware of your body. After a tragic event, you might notice certain body cues:

  • Shallow or fast paced breathing

  • Holding your breath

  • Chest tightness

  • Clenched jaw and/or fists

  • Restlessness

  • Agitation

  • Easily startled

  • Sweaty palms

  • Blurry vision

  • Difficulty thinking and/or concentrating

These body cues indicate that you might be in a fight, flight, or freeze response activated by your limbic system. The limbic system is the body’s primal response to threat, trauma, and stress. An important part of the HEALING PROCESS is to first attend to your body. You can do this by slowing and deepening your breathing and by activating your 5 senses with soothing and relaxing sensations. You might wrap yourself in a soft blanket, smell lavender, think of or look at your favorite color, and listen to nature sounds.


Reach out to others and stay connected. Sometimes after a tragedy, we can begin to isolate, withdraw, and keep our inner experience a secret to those around us. Even if you don’t know what to say, BE with others. After a tragedy, we NEED CONNECTION and to know that WE ARE NOT ALONE.


Give yourself permission to feel. Your emotions are real and valid. Holding in or repressing your feelings can contribute to physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, and body aches and pains. Repressed feelings can also affect how you think and feel about yourself contributing to low mood and low self-confidence.


Accept that you are doing the best you can. Watch out for judging your emotions, thoughts, and reactions. Accept that your experience is just as valid and as important as another person’s experience. There is no need to compare.


Talk to others. Share your experience. Give your experience a voice that can be heard, validated, and witnessed by others.


Honor your bravery. It might not seem like bravery to share your emotions and your experience with others, BUT IT IS! When you have the courage to open up and share, you give others the courage to do it too. You create a ripple of openness and connection that allows not just you to heal but also those around you. So yes, you are brave!


Embrace the people and animals you love. Hug your partner, your children, your friends, your parents, your family, your pets, etc. And for the loved ones not with you that you want to hug, hug them in spirit, heart to heart.

And when you say the acronym BREATHE, remember to take a deep intentional breath.

To all those suffering from tragedy, I send you love and peace.



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