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How to help others deal with shock, trauma & grief

With so much shock, trauma and grief going on in the world around us right now, what can you do to help your friends, family and colleagues cope if they have been personally affected?

Sit with them while they cry

Don’t be surprised if the first emotion expressed is anger. Often I find that anger is just a plug for the fear and pain that lie underneath, and once the anger is released the fear and pain have a way to come out of the system.

For many people showing emotion is a sign of weakness, and they will use anger to try and prevent their system from slipping into grief. It’s basically an ‘attack is the best form of defense’ strategy.

Just stay calm and validate the emotions that are coming out:

  • I can see why you’re angry/hurting/upset
  • I would also be angry/hurt/upset
  • It’s okay to be angry/cry

For the rest, offer tea, tissues, support and even a hug if you feel it’s appropriate. Mostly though you’re just going to sit in silence and be there so that your friend doesn’t have to face the pain alone.

Expect them to be dazed and confused

Shock is a physiological experience based on chemicals and hormones coursing through your body.

Even when I’ve found techniques to mitigate stress hormones and chemicals impacting the body, it honestly always seems to take about a week or two before the person comes out of that surreal daze that shock throws you into.

Offer practical support

You know how you wander around aimlessly looking for something to do but getting nothing done when you’re dazed? That’s exactly where your friend is.

Offer practical help that takes the load off: bring meals, fetch the kids and help with laundry.

Even when our entire world has come to a screeching halt, life around us still has to go on. The only thing worse than feeling like you want to die, is feeling like you want to do with dirty hair and dirty clothes, while sitting in a messy room.

Simply tidying up the environment, chasing your friend to bath and wash their hair and creating a sense of continuity and normality will help you friend move forward and come out of the daze more quickly.

Make to do lists

As much as you might want to take everything off your friend’s plate at this point, there are still some things he or she will need to do for themself.

You can however help them get organised with to do lists that break down exactly what they need to do. Crossing the list off will also create a sense of accomplishment that will help propel them forward again.

Be in constant contact

Having someone around you can rely on and talk to makes almost anything easier to bear in life.

When someone relies on you it can cause panic if they can’t reach you, even if it is for something unimportant. When you are that far down the rabbit hole of fear and shock and grief and pain, it is really easy to think people don’t like you or want you around, especially if they aren’t answering messages when you’re used to them answering quite quickly.

Being in constant contact is hard work yes, but it really is an emergency stopgap measure that shouldn’t last more than a week or two.

Understand there will be ups and downs

If you’ve read Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’ work on the stages of grief, one of the things she mentions is that people don’t always follow the stages in order: in fact they can skip stages and jump backwards and forwards between them.

When you’re dealing with massive emotion like this, often your body has to process it in pieces to make it easier for you to bear. This means that you can be feeling great one minute and right down at the bottom of the hole the next.

Another thing you may notice is that the ups and downs get more intense just before the person is about to break through. Trust your intuition with this and seek professional help if you think you need to.

Finally be patient – every one grieves in his or her own way and own time.

When it’s your turn to be looked after, I’m sure you won’t want to feel rushed either.

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