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So You're... Coping With Tragedy

So You're... Coping With Tragedy

When faced with moments of tragedy and crisis, it is easy to find ourselves overwhelmed with an abundance of stressors. These stressors can include concern for ourselves and concern for others and loved ones. Feelings of shock, vulnerability, and anxiety are just a few of the ways we feel during difficult moments in our lives. However, Excela Health bereavement counselor Maureen Ceidro, MA, explains the effects of tragedy and better ways to cope with compassion fatigue when trying to care for ourselves and others.

Excela Health Grief Support Counseling: Coping with Tragedy

Video Transcription

This is Maureen Ceidro, bereavement counselor from Excela Health home care and hospice, and I’d like to invite you to sit with me for a few minutes as we take a look at tragedies both local and global, and how we respond to them physically and emotionally.

Witnessing tragedy from afar through news, through social media, we are often left with an extreme sense of hopelessness, a feeling of “there is nothing I can do”. Tragedies remind us of our own vulnerability, and when we first hear of a tragedy, we often experience feelings of disbelief, shock, and sadness. We may feel overwhelmed with grief for those who are suffering.

Feeling sadness or empathy for other human beings who are suffering is part of the human experience. These are all very natural feelings. According to the American Psychological Association, some responses to witnessing a local or global tragedy are intense or unpredictable feelings. You may feel anxious, nervous, overwhelmed or grief-stricken. You may also feel more irritable or moody than usual. Your sleep and eating patterns may be disrupted. You may find yourself overeating or oversleeping, or you may experience difficulty falling asleep and have little or no appetite. You may experience more frequent disagreements with family members and co-workers. You might also become withdrawn, isolated or disengaged from your usual social activities.

You can also have stress-related physical symptoms: headaches, nausea, or chest pain may occur and could require medical attention. Be sure to contact your physician if necessary. When faced with stressors, we are often told to do something nice for ourselves. We are told to relax, take a long bubble bath, get our nails done, go fishing, go shopping. While these suggestions do give us the opportunities to care for ourselves, studies show that there is something more important and more helpful for us as we recover from a stressful event, and that is community. Talking with each other, connecting with co-workers, friends, and family is the most important thing we can do for our stress and our fatigue. Acknowledge your feelings with a friend or a loved one. Stay connected.

If you are a person of prayer, pray for those who are affected or send love and peace to those who are suffering. Turn off the television or remove yourself from social media to avoid being over-saturated with strong feelings of grief and helplessness. If you are feeling vulnerable, remind yourself that you are in a safe place. Consider kindness as an antidote to the stress you are feeling for yourself. Close your eyes and imagine you are looking into the eyes of someone who has been kind to you. Allow yourself to remember what it feels like to be cared for in that way. Rest in that feeling for a little while.

Be kind to others, do small acts of kindness for those who surround you. Comfort others, donate, volunteer. Know that you are not alone in this world and that there are many helping hands willing to care for you and others. Stay connected. Fred Rogers has taught children to look for helpers whenever there is a tragedy or disaster in our community or in our world, and that gives us as adults confirmation that others are out there tending to and caring for those who are suffering.

But what happens when we are the helpers? What do we do with the sad, or the mad, or the helplessness that we feel?

Our ability to show up in the wake of tragedy with willing hands and compassionate hearts is a beautiful gift that connects us with each other. It is our gift to our community. Disaster brings out the best in us. Yet in our empathetic responses and our compassion and our willingness to be there for those who are in despair can feel overwhelming and unbearable at times. Disasters are sudden, unexpected, and immediate. We are called stat to a situation that affords us little time to think and prepare. We are called to act. There is a huge sense of urgency and triage, and yet in the midst of it all, we need to keep things running as usual.

We collectively hold our breath as we tend to all things injured and broken and do not exhale until always cared for. We do not even consider the amount of pain and sadness that we have just witnessed and absorbed until we go home. And although we know that it would benefit us greatly to meditate, to exercise, to get proper sleep, we are curious people who often don’t do what is best for ourselves. We feel we don’t have the time or the energy.

So how do we maintain our ability to care for others not only physically but from a deeper place of kindness and goodness? How do we show up again and again without losing heart? How do we not burn out?

I’d like to suggest something very simple that requires very little time and no energy at all. At the beginning of your day, every day, take a moment to remember why it is that you do what you do. Remember what it is that motivates you to reconnect and recommit to your calling. Ground yourself in your sense of service to others and stay connected to those who surround you. We are all in this together and together is how we make our way.

Ram Dass said, “you cannot take away all of the world’s suffering, but you can be part of the machine of healing and compassion”. Take care of yourself. Be gentle with yourself and always, always reach out if you need a helping hand.

So, thank you for listening. Our team of grief support professionals works to inform, support and guide patients and families through the grief process. If you or someone you know is in need of support, please contact us at You may also use this email address to write in any questions or comments you would like to share about your grief journey. We have several options for receiving support including many live meetings as well as an online support group.

Look for us on Facebook under “Excela Health Grief Support” and request to join our grief support community, and please check this page often for updated information. Please remember this is a journey. You can do this, and we are always, always here to help you.

Thank you and take care.