How to Cope When Life Gets Tough: Strategies for Trauma and Disaster Recovery

By Sarah Earles, MS, LPC, NCC | July 05, 2024

Life is full of hard things: struggle, sadness, disappointment, etc. Sometimes the struggles of life fall into the categories of trauma and disaster, clusters of difficult things that often require extensive time and processing for recovery. What can people do to recover from such difficulties? While there is no specific timeline for trauma and disaster recovery, certain action steps can promote the healing process.

Unexpected events often bring loss with them. An important first step is to grieve that loss (Smith, Robinson, & Segal, 2023). Grieving does not eliminate the loss, but helps a person work towards acceptance. It can also help a person embrace changes that come with the loss, even with non-preferred changes (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration [SAMSHA], n.d.). Experts recommend avoiding major life decisions despite the change, however. Rather, it is better to grieve and try to return to decision making later.

Trauma and disaster take away agency and control. Therefore, a good step to take after a traumatic event is to re-establish routine (SAMSHA, n.d.). This allows a person to make little life decisions and feel a sense of efficacy. Yes, life may never be the same, but certain parts of life might be able to return to normal. A person can work on eating regular meals, going to sleep at similar times, and resuming an exercise routine (APA Committee on Psychiatric Dimensions of Disasters, 2023). If a person works and is able to return work, he or she may wish to job back to his or her profession for a sense of normalcy, as well as a place to practice agency. Coping with trauma and disaster is not so much about returning to normal, but finding a new normal.

As people process grief from trauma and disaster, self-care is key. Important components of self-care include reaching out to others, limiting upsetting news, avoiding substance use, and prioritizing enjoyable activities (APA Committee on Psychiatric Dimensions of Disasters, 2023; Mental Health America, n.d.; SAMSHA, n.d.). These give the brain the ability to experience positive and negative emotions, rather than be bathed in post-disaster stress.

Trauma and disaster may require seeking outside help as well. If struggles cause a person to think about suicide, or the person is unable to function, the person should seek help right away. Otherwise, if struggles persist six weeks past the trauma or disaster, a person should seek additional support. There is no shame in seeking help, as the healing process can be long (Smith, Robinson, & Segal, 2023). In most areas of the US 988 (suicide and crisis line) available is available to text or call for immediate assistance.

Good and bad days are normal (APA Committee on Psychiatric Dimensions of Disasters). People may find it easier to work through the healing process and survive good and bad days with professional support, however.

Hard times are not fun. They are, however, part of life. Learning to cope with trauma and disaster, therefore is valuable for life. Friends, family, community agencies, professional help, and specific skills such as those mentioned above can all help in this process.

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Life is full of hard things: struggle, sadness, disappointment, etc. Sometimes the struggles of life fall into the categories of trauma and disaster, clusters of difficult things that often require extensive time and processing for recovery. What can people do to recover from such difficulties? While there is no specific timeline for trauma and disaster recovery, certain action steps can promote the healing process.

Unexpected events often bring loss with them. An important first step is to grieve that loss (Smith, Robinson, & Segal, 2023). Grieving does not eliminate the loss, but helps a person work towards acceptance. It can also help a person embrace changes that come with the loss, even with non-preferred changes (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration [SAMSHA], n.d.). Experts recommend avoiding major life decisions despite the change, however. Rather, it is better to grieve and try to return to decision making later.

Trauma and disaster take away agency and control. Therefore, a good step to take after a traumatic event is to re-establish routine (SAMSHA, n.d.). This allows a person to make little life decisions and feel a sense of efficacy. Yes, life may never be the same, but certain parts of life might be able to return to normal. A person can work on eating regular meals, going to sleep at similar times, and resuming an exercise routine (APA Committee on Psychiatric Dimensions of Disasters, 2023). If a person works and is able to return work, he or she may wish to job back to his or her profession for a sense of normalcy, as well as a place to practice agency. Coping with trauma and disaster is not so much about returning to normal, but finding a new normal.

As people process grief from trauma and disaster, self-care is key. Important components of self-care include reaching out to others, limiting upsetting news, avoiding substance use, and prioritizing enjoyable activities (APA Committee on Psychiatric Dimensions of Disasters, 2023; Mental Health America, n.d.; SAMSHA, n.d.). These give the brain the ability to experience positive and negative emotions, rather than be bathed in post-disaster stress.

Trauma and disaster may require seeking outside help as well. If struggles cause a person to think about suicide, or the person is unable to function, the person should seek help right away. Otherwise, if struggles persist six weeks past the trauma or disaster, a person should seek additional support. There is no shame in seeking help, as the healing process can be long (Smith, Robinson, & Segal, 2023). In most areas of the US 988 (suicide and crisis line) available is available to text or call for immediate assistance.

Good and bad days are normal (APA Committee on Psychiatric Dimensions of Disasters). People may find it easier to work through the healing process and survive good and bad days with professional support, however.

Hard times are not fun. They are, however, part of life. Learning to cope with trauma and disaster, therefore is valuable for life. Friends, family, community agencies, professional help, and specific skills such as those mentioned above can all help in this process.

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References

APA Committee on Psychiatric Dimensions of Disasters. (2023, September). Coping after disaster. American Psychiatric Association. https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/coping-after-disaster-trauma

Mental Health America. (n.d.) Coping with disaster. https://mhanational.org/coping-disaster

Smith, M., Robinson, L., & Segal, J. (2023, February 24). How to cope with traumatic events. HelpGuide.org. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/ptsd-trauma/traumatic-stress.htm

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (n.d.). Coping tips for traumatic events and disasters. https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/disaster-distress-helpline/coping-tips

References

APA Committee on Psychiatric Dimensions of Disasters. (2023, September). Coping after disaster. American Psychiatric Association. https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/coping-after-disaster-trauma

Mental Health America. (n.d.) Coping with disaster. https://mhanational.org/coping-disaster

Smith, M., Robinson, L., & Segal, J. (2023, February 24). How to cope with traumatic events. HelpGuide.org. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/ptsd-trauma/traumatic-stress.htm

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (n.d.). Coping tips for traumatic events and disasters. https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/disaster-distress-helpline/coping-tips