On December 2, 2015, married couple, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, opened-fired in the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California, killing 14 people and leaving 21 others wounded. This mass shooting has been one of many terrorist attacks in the news lately.
This kind of unthinkable horror can leave the victims, their family and friends and the community in a state of shock, panic and distress, that possibly could lead to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
It’s normal to feel scared, sad, anxious or paranoid after a traumatic experience, like the mass shooting. It may take some time to calm down from the event and cope with what happened. However, when you’re unable to let the thoughts go, calm your nerves or move on, then you may be experiencing PTSD.
What is PTSD?
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder occurs when an individual has gone through a very traumatizing event in their life and doesn’t know how to cope with it and move forward. They feel immobilized because their safety has been threatened. Many times the person lives in a constant state of “fight or flight” mode, feeling very unstable and reactive.
Many people associate PTSD with soldiers and other military personnel during times of war, but PTSD can be triggered by a variety of stressful experiences where a person feels helpless or hopeless. These can include:
- Death of a loved one
- Job loss
- Car or plane crash
- Physical or sexual abuse
- Terrorist attacks
- Natural disasters
Symptoms of PTSD
You can tell the difference between a normal response from a person after experiencing a stressful situation, such a job loss, and a person suffering from PTSD, like from the San Bernardino shooting.
It’s normal to have nightmares about the trauma, not stop thinking about it or feel fearful. For most people, these symptoms gradually fade away over time. But for people with PTSD, these symptoms stay and sometimes, intensify. The nervous system gets “stuck” and can’t calm down, hence why these people are always in the “fight or flight” mode.
Other symptoms of PTSD include:
- Difficulty falling or stay asleep
- Difficulty focusing or concentrating
- Irritability or suddenly lashing out
- Constant anxious thoughts or flashbacks about the event
- Physical signs of stress when they think about the experience (racing heart, sweating, tense muscles, nausea, rapid breathing or hyperventilation)
- Loss of interest in normal activities or life
- Feeling disconnected from loved ones
- Feeling helpless, hopeless or depressed
- Feeling jumping and easily startled
- Feelings of guilt, blame or shame
- Feelings of betrayal or mistrust
- Avoids certain places, people or activities surrounding the event
- Avoids feeling, talking or thinking about the event
- Suicidal thoughts or feelings
5 Ways to Cope with PTSD
After experiencing a horrific event, like a terrorist attack, you may feel like life will never be the same and you don’t even know how to move forward. But you can overcome your fears and live life again. Recovering from PTSD takes time and effort to get your nervous system back in balance to a pre-trauma state, but it is possible.
Here are five ways to help you cope with your post-traumatic stress disorder:
1. Connect with your body. Exercise has been proven to help not only your physical state but also your mental and emotional well-being. During times when you notice that your fight or flight state has been triggered, like hearing the kickback of a car that reminds you of the sounds of gunshots which sets your mind into a state of panic, get outside for a walk or run. When you get your body moving, you release endorphins that will help to calm you down. By focusing on a physical activity or strenuous exercise routine, you’re allowing your nervous system to slowly become “unstuck.” Try to be very present by noticing the physical sensations you are feeling as you do the exercise, focus directly on what you are doing and allow outside thoughts to pass by, and listen to your breathing.
2. Connect with your loved ones. Many PTSD sufferers feel withdrawn from their family and friends and slowly disengage with them after the shooting or traumatic event, skipping parties or social events, being alone most days, and not staying in contact with people. Support from your loved ones is vital to your recovery. It’s important to push through those negative feelings and talk about the event with those you trust. It’ll help calm down your nervous system and help you regain a sense of safety and comfort again. Allow those that love you to help you and be there for you.
3. Challenge your victim mindset. Once you experience an attack or traumatic event, you may feel like a victim, vulnerable and helpless. But you must remind yourself that you have the ability to overcome your fearful mind and use your coping skills. You are stronger than you think. To help strengthen and reclaim your sense of power, think of activities you can do, like volunteering, donating to your favorite charity, giving blood or just helping a struggling neighbor, friend or family member. You may also consider joining a support group in Oakland, where you can connect with others suffering from PTSD.
4. Take care of yourself. No matter how paralyzing the shooting or event has been for you, you must keep yourself healthy. Try to keep your normal routine for a sense of comfort and familiarity. Eat healthy, nutritious foods, exercise daily, get plenty of rest and sleep, do things you enjoy doing or pick up new hobbies, and avoid drugs and alcohol. To help calm the mind and racing thoughts that replays the shooting over and over again, look into meditation, deep breathing exercises or yoga. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, ask for help around the house or at the office. When people offer you their assistance, take advantage of it. The less you have to worry, the more you can focus on your own healing and recovery.
5. Seek professional help. Sometimes you can only go so far on your own before you need to ask for help. Seeking out a professional therapist does not mean you’re weak or incompetent in dealing with your emotions. Sometimes you need the expertise of a professional trained in the area of PTSD to assist you in facing your fears surrounding the shooting or event that you experienced. Healing Happens Therapy can help you work through your thoughts and feelings, teach you coping mechanisms and address the problems PTSD is causing in your life and relationships.
My heart goes out to the families of the victims and anyone effected by this tragic event. Hoping this blog will support those in need.