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Coping with Trauma


Coping with Trauma Related to Terrorism

Terrorism by definition is designed to evoke terror in people and for most people, it does a pretty good job of achieving its intent. Terrorism in our world is a chronic stressor that each person has to find a way to build resilience to and cope with. This page provides tips on how to cope with terrorism-related trauma. Knowledge or experience of random, unprovoked acts of violence often leaves people feeling helpless, hopeless, vulnerable, and angry. Terrorists intentionally attack defenseless citizens so that all individuals feel vulnerable, not just those in the military or those taking a stand against a set of ideas or beliefs.

Someone can be personally affected by:

  • Being witness to a terrorist attack.
  • Losing loved ones in a terrorist attack.
  • Being triggered because of previous trauma.
  • Vicarious exposure to the loss and grief of others.

It is important to take good care of yourself, try to maintain your usual routine, and maintain hope. Heroes are everywhere and we often find they emerge at times of crisis and trauma. Sometimes the heroes are ordinary citizens who intervene in the face of terror as it is unfolding, but sometimes the heroes are those who generously donate, serve, and tirelessly act to assist others in the wake of terror.

Many have noted that Americans have an enormous ability to come together as one people in times of need whether that be in response to a natural disaster, an act of terror, or another tragedy. One of the most powerful ways to recover from grief and loss is to seek social support. Reach out to others, talk, listen, hug, find ways to support one another and focus on all the care and love that exists all around each of us and our world.

Tips for coping with trauma related to terrorism:

  • Take a news break. Listening to or watching unending coverage of tragic events can negatively impact your ability to cope. Limit your exposure.
  • Reach out to others. Talk about your worries and seek support from others.
  • Maintain your routine as much as you can.
  • Focus on the positive. Most individuals are outraged by terrorism, meaning most people are good and that is a wonderful fact to focus on.
  • Seek out professional care if you are having trouble coping.

Coping with Trauma Related to Natural Disasters and Other Tragedies

Typical Responses to Tragedy and Disaster

  • Emotional Responses: shock/denial, fear/anxiety, anger/irritability, depression, feelings of hopelessness, guilt, numbness, mood changes or grief.
  • Behavioral Responses: changes in activity level, social withdrawal or isolation, restlessness/agitation/pacing, changes in appetite, sleep disturbance/insomnia, increased use of alcohol/drugs or an inability to relax.
  • Cognitive Responses: forgetfulness, difficulty making decisions, difficulty concentrating, dreams/nightmares of the event, confusion, “flashbacks” of the crisis event, confusion or self-doubt.
  • Physical Responses: fatigue/loss of energy, headaches, back pain, GI distress/nausea/vomiting, muscle tension, trembling, rapid heartbeat, sweating or chills, dizziness, exaggerated startle-response or weakness of the body.

Tips for coping and self-care:

  • Reach out and make contact with others.
  • Talk with friends and loved ones.
  • Recognize and accept your feelings as "normal" responses to extreme circumstances.
  • Express your feelings appropriately; consider keeping a journal to help in the process.
  • Structure your time.
  • Maintain your usual schedule as much as you can.
  • Get extra rest and set aside time to relax.
  • Eat regular balanced meals even if you don't feel hungry.
  • Exercise or participate in some regular physical activity.
  • Don't make major decisions or changes in your life.
  • Avoid excessive use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Consider contacting CAPS at 850.474.2420 or a mental health professional if symptoms persist

The above content about coping with trauma related to natural disasters and other tragedies was included with permission of the Director of CAPS at the University of Mary Washington.


Additional Resources


If you feel you may be struggling with trauma and would like to seek further help with coping, please contact us at 850.474.2420 or stop by Counseling and Psychological Services in Building 960, Suite 200A, to schedule an appointment.

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