It was 3:00 a.m. when loud pounding on their front door roused my daughter and son-in-law from deep slumber. The words accompanying the pounding are ones to paralyze the soul:
In the past few days, I’ve watched news reports telling about thousands of California individuals and families who’ve had this experience. But, the event takes on new significance when among the “thousands,” some are people you love.
Even though the lives and homes of most, including our loved ones, are safe, many have died in this tragedy. Many more must now begin the process of rebuilding a lifetime because their houses and possessions have been reduced to ash and rubble.
This unexpected, never anticipated event will forever change my daughter, her family, friends, co-workers and the community they have called home for over 20 years.
I’ve spoken often to my daughter in the days since their 3:00 a.m. fearful awakening. The mama in me has tried to soothe my child’s pain and anxiety.
The professional in me who’s been trained in critical incident management has tried to provide information to help her sort out the myriad of responses she’s experiencing personally as well as those she’s observing in others.
In today’s post, I’d like to keep my professional hat on for a bit and provide some information concerning traumatic stress, stress response and resilience. If you’d like to cut and paste the following information to share with family and friends, please do so.
Trauma, Stress and Resilience
First, as I’ve told hundreds of people over the past 20+ years, including Angie recently, the most important sentence one can remember about reactions to a traumatic event is:
What you are experiencing is a normal reaction to this very abnormal situation!
There are different types of stress:
- Situational Stress – Everyday stress everyone experiences, which can be good or bad, exciting or frightening.
Common comment: This is SO frustrating/annoying/scary/exhilarating!
- Examples of good situational stress: falling in love; planning a special event, e.g. wedding; birth of a baby; starting a new job; moving into new home; riding a roller coaster; running a marathon.
- Examples of bad situational stress: delayed traffic making you late; couldn’t find keys, homework, etc.; technical glitches; exams or deadlines; short-term money problems; interpersonal conflict.
Situational stressors create frustration but also add joy and interest to life. Though annoying, situational stress is manageable.
- Traumatic stress – Psychological distress resulting from an unexpected catastrophic event.
Common comment: I can’t believe this happened!
- Examples of Traumatic Stress: Current events such as hurricanes, floods, mass shootings and wildfires; serious accidents; crime victim; significant financial loss.
- Anticipatory Stress – Vague and undefined “What if?” stress related to an actual upcoming event or worries that something bad may happen.
- Examples of Anticipatory Stress: “What if the winds shift?” “What if my child doesn’t make it home safely?” “What if I lose everything?”
- Cumulative Stress – Think of the children’s building block, imagining each block represents a type of stress. One block of Stress piles on top of another until eventually, the stress-block-tower topples, challenging physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing.
Cumulative stress is especially troublesome if an incident of Traumatic Stress is added!
Common comment: I can’t handle ONE MORE thing!
People impacted by a traumatic event experience a wide variety of responses. Some common crisis responses are listed below. These are generally temporary. If, however, symptoms persist or worsen, please see a physician or mental health professional.
- Nausea/Stomach Upset
- Muscle Aches
- Rapid Heartbeat
- Appetite Change
- Sleep Disturbance
- Guilt (Including, Survivor Guilt)
- Hyper vigilance
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling betrayed
- Feeling rejected
- Question God:
- Does God care?
- Where was God?
- Feel distant from God
- Feel unexplainable peace
Stress undoubtedly takes a tole physically, emotionally, mentally, relationally and spiritually. However, resilience, an incredible ability to “bounce back” from even the most devastating stress, seems built into the human spirit.
Resilience is the normal outcome for most people.
Family, friends, faith and compassionate crisis care promote resilience, which provides hope and enables a person to take necessary steps back to wellbeing and happiness.