Coping with tragedy

Dr. Joe is actually in Las Vegas today. He is safe,  but we thought it would be a good time to share this information from the University of Wisconsin. You can download the PDF version here.

What You May Experience & How to Cope

Immediate Reactions: There are a wide variety of positive and negative reactions that survivors can experience during and immediately after a crisis, disaster, trauma or loss. These include:

Positive Responses  

Determination and resolve, sharper perception, courage, optimism, faith

Feeling involved, challenged, mobilized

Social connectedness, altruistic helping behaviors

Alertness, readiness to respond, increased energy

Increased desire for spiritual community, greater feelings of connection to and trust of God/religion/higher power

Negative Responses  

Confusion, disorientation, worry, intrusive thoughts and images, flashbacks, self-blame, difficulty concentrating, difficulty making decisions or problem solving, slowed thinking, nightmares

Shock, sorrow, grief, sadness, fear, anger, numb, irritability, guilt and shame, anxiety, feeling abandoned, feeling overwhelmed, emotional outbursts

Extreme withdrawal, interpersonal conflict, dissociation, inability to rest/relax

Fatigue, headache, muscle tension, stomachache, increased heart rate, exaggerated startle response, difficulties sleeping, loss of appetite

Anger at God/religion/higher power, desire to disassociate from God/religion/higher power, excessive focus on religious blaming or justifying

Common negative reactions that may continue include:  

 Intrusive reactions  

•       Distressing thoughts or images of the event while awake or dreaming 

•       Upsetting emotional or physical reactions to reminders of the experience

•       Feeling like the experience is happening all over again (“flashback”) 

 Avoidance and withdrawal reactions  

•       Avoid talking, thinking, and having feelings about the traumatic event 

•       Avoid reminders of the event (places and people connected to what happened) 

•       Restricted emotions; feeling numb 

•       Feelings of detachment and estrangement from others; social withdrawal 

•       Loss of interest in usually pleasurable activities 

 Physical arousal reactions  

•       Constantly being "on the lookout" for danger, startling easily, or being jumpy 

•       Irritability or outbursts of anger, feeling "on edge" 

•       Difficulty falling or staying asleep, problems concentrating or paying attention 

 Reactions to trauma and loss reminders  

•       Reactions to places, people, sights, sounds, smells, and feelings that are reminders of the traumatic event

•       Reminders can bring on distressing mental images, thoughts, and emotional/physical reactions 

•       Common examples include: sudden loud noises, sirens, locations where the incident occurred, seeing people with disabilities, funerals, anniversaries of the traumatic event, and television/radio news about the event

Positive changes in priorities, worldview, and expectations

•       Enhanced appreciation that family and friends are precious and important 

•       Meeting the challenge of addressing difficulties (by taking positive action steps, changing the focus of thoughts, using humor, acceptance) 

•       Shifting expectations about what to expect from day to day and about what is considered a “good day” 

•       Shifting priorities to focus more on quality time with family or friends 

•       Increased commitment to self, family, friends, and spiritual/religious faith

When a Loved One Dies, Common Reactions Include:  

•       Feeling confused, numb, disbelief, bewildered, or lost

•       Feeling angry at the person who died or at people considered responsible for the death 

•       Strong physical reactions such as nausea, fatigue, shakiness, and muscle weakness 

•       Feeling guilty for still being alive 

•       Intense emotions such as extreme sadness, anger, or fear 

•       Increased risk for physical illness and injury 

•       Decreased productivity or difficulties making decisions 

•       Having thoughts about the person who died, even when you don’t want to 

•       Longing, missing, and wanting to search for the person who died 

•       Children and adolescents are particularly likely to worry that they or a parent might die 

•       Children and adolescents may become anxious when separated from caregivers or other loved ones


Focusing on something practical that you can do right now to manage the situation better 

Using relaxation methods (breathing exercises, meditation, calming self-talk, soothing music) 

Accept some negative feelings as normal

Exercising in moderation 

Participating in a support group 

Keeping a journal 

Seeking counseling 

Praying and tending to spiritual/religious faith

Talking to another person for support or spending time with others 

Engaging in positive distracting activities (sports, hobbies, reading) 

Getting adequate rest and eating healthy meals 

Trying to maintain a normal schedule 

Scheduling pleasant activities 

Taking breaks 

Reminiscing about a loved one who has died 

Attending religious services


Working too much 

Violence or conflict 

Doing risky things (driving recklessly, substance abuse, not taking adequate precautions)

Blaming others

Excessive TV or computer games

Not taking care of yourself 

Using alcohol or drugs to cope

Extreme withdrawal from family or friends 

Withdrawing from pleasant activities

Overeating or failing to eat


Extreme avoidance of thinking or talking about the event or a death of a loved one


Take care of yourself. And each other.

-From all of us at HAPCAG