Whether you are directly impacted by yesterday’s horrific event in Boston — because you live in the area, or perhaps ran in or watched the marathon, or through family or friends or colleagues who were there, you are still feeling some level of impact when you see the tragedy. You probably have questions: what to feel, what to do, how to process what goes on in your head and your heart.
KMBZ called me yesterday to ask those questions: what is the impact? How are people affected? What do we do?
There are several stages or levels of reaction to such a shocking event.
-First shock and an immediate flight, fight, freeze response. Because the bombs were totally unexpected — they impacted at a time of celebration – for a few seconds, even minutes, there is no way to know what to do but protect yourself in some manner. To that end, some ran, some hid, some ran into the fray to help others. Those of us who watched were stunned. I realized I was holding my breath, keeping myself from feeling.
-Next is an adrenal reaction. Stress hormones are activated. Flooding your body, they can sustain you and keep you numb and still acting effectively for as long as 24 hours, sometimes longer. Consequently awareness of what you actually think and feel — both physically and emotionally — is delayed. For some people that effect can be longer.
-Pay attention to when that begins to wear off. For those of you who were nowhere near Boston, you can still have the reaction I’m describing. And if you’ve had any past traumas, those can be activated as well. Past events connect with current events if they have not “healed” and can thus intensify a reaction in the here and now. You may feel high levels of stress, tear up or cry easily, feel inappropriately angry or edgy or irritable, experience difficulty sleeping, feel numb and shut down, or experience high levels of anxiety or depression, and simply wonder if you should be doing something. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you could wonder what everyone is so upset about. That reaction can be equally concerning because you realize what you feel is so different from what most others are experiencing and discussing.
-The important thing is what YOU feel and think. Pay attention and honor it. Talk to someone. Don’t “stockpile” your emotional reactions …they just burrow down inside and cause you further stress. This is important on any level, but if you feel your safety is somehow threatened, it’s important that you process those feelings with someone. That can be something as simple as talking with a family member or friend, or as intentional as making an appointment with a health care professional.
If you have been looking at the blogs on stress, this is a good time to go back and review and see if the questions help you. I will post more in the coming days. Meanwhile, remember how important it is to take good care of yourself. Stress levels are already high, and a tragedy of this magnitude elevates and intensifies what each of us feels.