Coping With Trauma & Disaster- The Right Way

By Dr.R.Thara and Dr.Latha Srinivasan of SCARF

Any disaster leaves people with a great sense of anger, betrayal, hurt and anguish caused by the loss of human life and livelihood. This can be very traumatic for the individual as it hampers his normal coping capacity, which in turn disrupts his daily living.

Persons who have experienced the trauma, those working with victims/survivors, and even those who keep watching scenes of the disaster on TV can all have any of the following symptoms :

Symptoms of trauma:



– disbelief at what happened

– feeling numb, as if things are unreal

Fear & Anxiety:

– of a recurrence

– for the safety of oneself or one’s family

– apparently unrelated fears


– at who caused it or “allowed it to happen”

– at the injustice and senselessness of it all

– generalised anger and irritability


– about the losses, both human and material

– about the loss of feelings of safety and security

-feeling depressed for no reason

Shame & Guilt:

– for having appeared helpless or emotional

– for not behaving as you would have liked

-Accusing and blaming oneself


trauma and disaster management

Pic courtesy: nytimes 


– difficulty dropping off because of intrusive thoughts

– restless and disturbed sleep

– feeling tired and fatigued

Physical Problems:

– easily startled by noises

– general agitation and muscle tension

– palpitations, trembling or sweating

– breathing difficulties

– headaches or general aches and pains

– nausea, diarrhoea or constipation

– many other physical signs and symptoms



– frequent thoughts or images of the incident

– thoughts or images of other frightening events

– flashbacks or feelings of “reliving” the experience

– attempts to shut out the painful memories

– pictures of what happened jumping into your head


– dreams and nightmares about what happened

– unpleasant dreams of other frightening things


– difficulty making simple decisions

– inability to concentrate and memory problems



– withdrawal from others and a need to be alone

– easily irritated by other people

– feelings of detachment from others

– loss of interest in normal activities and hobbies


– not wanting to go to work, poor motivation

– poor concentration and attention


– increased use of alcohol, cigarettes or other drugs

– loss of appetite or increased eating

– loss of interest in enjoyable activities

– loss of sexual interest

Some of the following ideas may help you in coming to terms with the experience and in alleviating some of the emotional pain associated with it.

General principles:

* Help the individual recognize that he has been through a highly stressful experience and acknowledge that he will have a psychological reaction to it. Excessive denial or refusal to accept his feelings may delay the recovery process.

* Support from family, friends and anyone working with the person would help the individual to share and understand those who have had a similar experience. Talking with others about your reactions to the trauma is part of the natural healing process and will help you to accept what has happened.


  • Get plenty of rest, even if you can’t sleep. Try to eat a regular and well-balanced diet.
  • Regular exercise (like walking, cycling or jogging) is good at reducing the
  • physical effects of stress and trauma.
  • Reduce your use of stimulants such as tea, coffee, chocolate, cola and cigarettes, as these substances only increase your level of arousal.
  • Do not try to numb the pain with drugs or alcohol; this will lead to more problems in the long term.
  • Suggest techniques of relaxation like:
  • -Listening to calm and pleasant music.
  • -Indulging in a hobby of your choice.
  • -Breathing exercise: Lie flat on the floor. Close your eyes. Take a deep breathe and exhale slowly. This could be done for 5 minutes several times a day. Concentrate on fresh air that is coming in and the warm stale air that is going out of your body.
  • Other technique such as meditation and yoga.


  •  Try to resume a normal routine as quickly as possible, but take it easy; do not throw yourself into activities or work in an attempt to avoid the unpleasant feelings and memories.
  • Sometimes you will want to be alone, but try not to become too isolated. Contact friends and, if necessary, have someone stay with you for a few hours each day.
  • Do things you enjoy and be nice to yourself. Try to schedule at least one pleasurable activity each day.
  • You may wish to try and help out others who have been through similar situations,especially as you start to feel better.
  • Don’t make any major life decisions (such as moving house or changing jobs) in the period following the trauma. Equally, do make as many smaller, daily decisions as possible (e.g., what you want to eat or what film you’d like to see).

This will help to re-establish a feeling of control over your life.


  • Recurring thoughts, dreams and flashbacks are normal. Don’t try to fight them. They will decrease in time.
  • Talk about the incident, and how you are feeling to people who care about you. Even though this process is painful, it is the best way of coming to terms with your experience.
  • Some people find that keeping a journal or diary is very helpful. Especially when you can’t talk to others about how you feel, writing it down is almost as good.


  • Give yourself permission to feel rotten – you’ve been through a traumatic experience. Feeling bad is unpleasant, but don’t over-react – you can cope with it for a while.
  • You are having normal reactions; don’t label yourself as crazy.
  • After a trauma, people can come out wiser and stronger. Your experiences may help you to cope better with the stresses of everyday life. It can also be a turning point when you re-evaluate your life and appreciate little things that are often overlooked.
  • Try to identify the positive aspects for yourself and your family.

SCARF has started training programmes for anybody who wishes to counsel others. This is open for both professional and lay counsellors.

For details contact SCARF  at : 26153971, 26151073.

Scarf India