Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
- Recognizing and reducing anxiety in times of crisis
- Trauma in the Community
- Tips for responding to Children and Youth after traumatic events
The EAP offers a confidential counseling service, free of charge to AlaskaCare Health and ASEA Health Trust members and their dependents. It provides assessment, treatment and referral services. It is geared to provide assistance with difficulties that you might encounter at work, emotional problems, stress, family and relationship problems, and drug and alcohol abuse.
Resources are Available
Additional information, self-help tools and other resources are available online at the above links. Or call for more information, help and support. Counselors are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to provide confidential assistance at no cost to you.
Recognizing and reducing anxiety in times of crisis
No one who sees or hears about a tragedy is untouched by it – and in a era of instant mass communication, the number of people exposed to such violence in one way or another is significant. Most of us will experience some related anxiety and stress that will fade over time. For some, however, such feelings may not go away on their own. We need to recognize the difference and understand that, if needed, help is available and effective.
What are common reactions?
Mass tragedies can affect us in many ways: physically, emotionally and mentally. They can make people feel angry, enraged, confused, sad or even guilty. When those feelings don’t go way over a few weeks, or when they seem to get worse, it may be appropriate to seek help for yourself or the person in your life who is experiencing these difficulties. Among the signs to look for over time are:
- Feeling tense and nervous
- Constant exhaustion
- Difficulty sleeping
- Constant crying
- Excessive alcohol and/or drug use
- Difficulty concentrating
What can you do to help?
There are simple steps that can be taken. Get in touch with your emotions and how you are feeling. Recognize how your family and friends are feeling and if you think there may be a problem, take some time to get advice from someone trained to recognize the signs and symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Pay special attention to children’s needs and speak with them in a calm and supportive way about their fears.
You should get immediate help from a trained professional if you or a loved one is experiencing any of these problems:
- Inability to return to normal routine
- Feeling helpless
- Having thoughts of hurting one’s self or others
- Excessive use alcohol and drugs
Trauma in the Community
People who have experienced an acute traumatic event, either directly or indirectly, may demonstrate changes in behavior. Traumatic events happen everyday. Although trauma affects people in different ways, there are some common reactions that you may experience. These post-trauma signs and symptoms may begin immediately, or might happen after a few days or weeks. It is important to remember that these reactions are normal. Although it might feel abnormal, it is quite common for people to experience emotional “aftershocks” following a traumatic event.
- Common reactions to trauma
- What causes these reactions?
- How long do these symptoms last?
- Can't I just try to forget about what happened?
Common Reactions to Trauma
- Feel fear or anxiety about subjects that you never thought about before the event occurred
- After a disturbing event, people may question things such as their faith, their parenting skills, or their ability to perform well at work where before people usually took these things for granted.
- Have emotional outbursts and startled responses
- You may have a tendency to overreact to sudden, unexpected loud noises, such as a car backfiring. In a heightened state of awareness, this reaction is understandable. When you find yourself in this type of situation, taking slow, deep breaths can help to calm you.
- Be extremely aware of things around you
- In times like these, people are more aware of things that they might otherwise overlook, such as a noise in their house or a helicopter in the sky. Shortly after disturbing events, everyday occurrences may not seem everyday anymore. This often accompanies a feeling of being vulnerable or unsafe. When having these types of feelings, it is important to keep a healthy perspective between what you feel and what you know.
- Experience a change in sleep or eating patterns
- Disturbances in sleep are quite common. You may find yourself sleeping a little more or a little less than usual, or you may have bad dreams or nightmares. You may also experience loss of appetite, a craving for “comfort” foods, or digestive problems like nausea, diarrhea, or constipation. Try to stick to your regular routine. It could help get other daily habits back on track as well.
- Become easily distracted
- A negative form of distraction is resorting to numbing behaviors such as drinking or drug use. You may be trying to remove yourself from the situation so that you don’t have to think about it. There are, however, ways to distract yourself in a positive fashion. Try listening to music, reading a book or going out to dinner with friends to get your mind off things for a while.
- Have flashbacks, disturbing images or memories
- A common reaction after being exposed to a traumatic event is having flashbacks or images pop into your head without any apparent reason. Again, this is a normal reaction. If you find that the frequency or intensity of the flashbacks does not gradually lessen, seek professional help to learn how to manage these thoughts.
- Experience mood shifts and intense emotions
- Feelings are neither right nor wrong, but they can be very confusing. You may find yourself feeling anxious or fearful one moment and tearful or angry the next. It is important to try to identify what you are feeling so that you can be aware of how it may be influencing your thoughts and actions. Writing down your feelings in a journal can be a good way to look for any patterns and to track whether your feelings are becoming more manageable or not.
What Causes These Reactions?
They are a sign that the body and mind are actively trying to cope with the traumatic experience. They may not seem like logical, expected reactions. These symptoms are automatic responses that many people experience.
How Long Do These Symptoms Last?
The signs and symptoms of trauma should lessen with time. There are some factors that may influence how mild or severe your reactions are, such as your degree of exposure to the trauma, other personal or psychological problems, and whether you have been exposed to other, similar traumas in the past.
If you are concerned about your reactions, note the specific symptoms that worry you. It may help to write them down. For each symptom, note the:
- Duration – Normally, trauma reactions will grow less intense and disappear within a few weeks.
- Intensity – If the reaction interferes with your ability to carry on your life normally.
Can’t I Just Try to Forget About What Happened?
People who have been through traumas often want to avoid reminders of the trauma, because they can be very upsetting. Sometimes they are aware of this and avoid reminders on purpose; sometimes they do it without realizing it. Ways of avoiding thoughts, feelings, and sensations associated with the trauma can include:
- Avoiding conversations and staying away from places, activities, or people that might remind you of the traumatic event
- Having trouble remembering important parts of what happened during the trauma
- “Shutting down” emotionally or feeling emotionally numb
- Being unable to feel any strong emotion
- Feeling strange or “not yourself”
- Feeling disconnected from the world around you
- Avoiding situations that might make you have a strong emotional reaction
- Experiencing “weird” or unusual physical sensations
- Feeling physically numb, not feeling pain or other sensations
- Losing interest in things you used to enjoy
Avoiding thoughts about the trauma or avoiding treatment for your trauma-related problems is a temporary, but risky, solution. By facing your fears and getting help when needed, you will find your symptoms ease and you can get back to “normal” more quickly.
Tips for Responding to Children and Youth after Traumatic Events
- Preschool Age
- Early Childhood
- How to Help
- Tips for Talking to Children After a Traumatic Event
- When Talking isn't Enough
Traumatic events, such as natural disasters, shootings, bombings, or other violent acts, can leave children feeling frightened, confused, and insecure.
Whether a child has personally experienced trauma, has seen the event on television, or has merely heard it discussed by adults, it is important for parents and educators to be informed and ready to help if stress reactions begin to occur.
Children respond to trauma in many different ways. Some may have reactions very soon after the event; others may do fine for weeks or months and then begin to show troubling behavior. Knowing the signs that are common at different ages can help parents and teachers recognize problems and respond appropriately.
Children ages 1–5 find it particularly hard to adjust to change and loss. These youngsters have not yet developed their own coping skills, so they must depend on parents, family members, and teachers to help them through difficult times.
Young children may regress to an earlier behavioral stage after a violent or traumatic event. Preschoolers may resume thumb sucking or bed–wetting, or may become afraid of strangers, animals, darkness, or "monsters." They may cling to a parent or teacher, or become very attached to a place where they feel safe. Changes in eating and sleeping habits are common, as are unexplainable aches and pains.
Other symptoms to watch for are disobedience, hyperactivity, speech difficulties, and aggressive or withdrawn behavior. Preschoolers may tell exaggerated stories about the traumatic event or may refer to it repeatedly.
Children ages 5–11 may have some of the same reactions that younger children have. They also may withdraw from playgroups and friends, compete more for the attention of parents, fear going to school, allow school performance to drop, become aggressive, or find it hard to concentrate. These children also may return to more childish behaviors, such as asking to be fed or dressed.
Children ages 12–14 are likely to have vague physical complaints when under stress and may abandon chores, schoolwork, or other responsibilities they previously handled. Though they may compete vigorously for attention from parents and teachers, they also may withdraw, resist authority, become disruptive at home or in the classroom, or begin to experiment with high–risk behaviors such as alcohol or drug use.
These young people are at a developmental stage in which the opinions of others are very important. They need to be thought of as “normal” by their friends, and are less concerned about relating well with adults or participating in family activities they once enjoyed.
In later adolescence, teens may experience feelings of helplessness and guilt because they are unable to assume full adult responsibilities as the community responds to the traumatic event. Older teens may deny the extent of their reactions to the traumatic event.
How to Help
Reassurance is the key to helping children through a traumatic time. Very young children need a lot of cuddling as well as verbal support. Answer questions about the event honestly, but do not dwell on frightening details or allow the subject to dominate family or classroom time indefinitely. Encourage children of all ages to express emotions through conversation, writing, or artwork; and to find a way to help others who were affected by the event.
Try to maintain a normal household or classroom routine, and encourage children to participate in recreational activity. Temporarily reduce your expectations about performance in school or at home, perhaps by substituting less demanding responsibilities for normal chores.
Acknowledge that you, too, may have reactions associated with the traumatic event, and take steps to promote your own physical and emotional healing.
Tips for Talking to Children After a Traumatic Event
- Provide children with opportunities to talk about what they are seeing on television and to ask questions.
- Do not be afraid to admit that you cannot answer all of their questions.
- Answer questions at a level the children can understand.
- Provide ongoing opportunities for children to talk. They probably will have more questions as time goes on.
- Use this as an opportunity to establish a family emergency plan. Feeling that there is something you can do may be very comforting to both children and adults.
- Allow children to discuss other fears and concerns about unrelated issues. This is a good opportunity to explore these issues also.
- Monitor children’s television watching. Some parents may wish to limit their child’s exposure to graphic or troubling scenes. To the extent possible, be present when your child is watching news coverage of the event. It is at these times that questions might arise.
- Help children understand that there are no bad emotions and that a wide range of reactions is normal. Encourage children to express their feelings to adults (including teachers) who can help them understand their sometimes strong and troubling emotions.
- Be careful not to scapegoat or generalize about any particular cultural or ethnic group. Try not to focus on blame.
- In addition to the tragic things they see, help children identify good things, such as heroic actions, families who unite and share support, and the assistance offered by people throughout the community.
When Talking isn't Enough
For some children more active interventions may be required, particularly if they were more directly affected by the traumatic event.
- The family, as a unit, might consider counseling.
- Traumatic events often reawaken a child’s fear of loss of parents (frequently a child’s greatest fear) at a time when parents may be preoccupied with their own practical and emotional difficulties.
- Families may choose to permit temporary regressive behavior. Several arrangements may help children separate gradually after the agreed–upon time limit: spending extra time with parents immediately before bedtime, leaving the child’s bedroom door slightly ajar, and using a night–light.
- Many parents have their own fears of leaving a child alone after a traumatic event or other fears they may be unable to acknowledge. Parents often are more able to seek help on the children’s behalf and may, in fact, use the children’s problems as a way of asking for help for themselves and other family members.
- Teachers also can help children with art and play activities, as well as by encouraging group discussions in the classroom and informational presentations about the traumatic event.