Hurricanes, floods, fires, the mass shooting in Las Vegas, rape and sexual abuse scandals in Hollywood, fears about a nuclear attack from North Korea — the horrific news keeps piling up with no apparent relief in sight.

  • Humor, returning to normal routines, taking care of yourself, reducing workload, focusing on what can be done and sharing gratitude can help guide you past trauma.

Hurricanes, floods, fires, the mass shooting in Las Vegas, rape and sexual abuse scandals in Hollywood, fears about a nuclear attack from North Korea — the horrific news keeps piling up with no apparent relief in sight.

What steps can you take to find your footing in these turbulent times and to lend a hand to those who have been so severely impacted by these dreadful events?

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. Windermere Real Estate is kicking off its annual three-day symposium for its agents with many of the industry’s most notable names in attendance. As the opening session convened at 9 a.m., 1,000 agents sat riveted as the tragedy unfolded live on the big screens before them.

With tears streaming down her face, the moderator stepped to the podium. Instead of canceling the event, she said in a soft voice—”Let’s not let these assholes ruin our week.” She then raised her voice and shouted –“Let’s not let these assholes ruin our week!”

The room stood and cheered.

With disaster after disaster hitting us for weeks, it’s this indomitable spirit that leads strangers to risk their lives to help others who have been injured or are in harm’s way. It’s also this spirit that ultimately leads to recovering from these events.

The trauma is real

Have you been experiencing unusual fatigue, aches and pains, and perhaps even some depression? If so, the emotional toll of all the recent disasters may be responsible.

Your cerebral cortex knows that these “vicarious” events are not happening to you, but the limbic system that governs your emotional responses is unable to distinguish the difference.

This is known known as vicarious trauma and can sometimes be as devastating as experiencing the event first-hand.

Expected responses

If you have encountered an extraordinarily traumatic life event, acknowledging how you are reacting will help to shorten recovery time while also enhancing the natural healing process.

The following reactions can occur whether you experience the event first-hand or vicariously:

  • Numbness, achy muscles, inability to sleep, and/or cold-like symptoms
  • Flashbacks
  • Jumpiness including heightened responses to unexpected noise or surprises
  • Anger, irritability or sadness
  • Inability to make decisions
  • Fear of being alone
  • Memories of traumatic events from earlier parts of your life
  • Concentration difficulties, forgetfulness and difficulty making decisions
  • Increased risk for illness and accidents
  • Social withdrawal
  • Self-medication with junk food, alcohol or drugs.
  • Survivor’s guilt or guilt that others are suffering more than you are.

These reactions are generally temporary and improve over time. Nevertheless, there will be days where you will experience emotional setbacks.

The reason is that your body kicks into an adrenaline-driven response to get through the trauma or loss. Your reaction to the event may not surface until you stop being busy.

If these reactions persist or if you are experiencing substantial discomfort, it’s smart to contact a mental health professional.

6 ways to find your footing

How can you move past this trauma that can last for months or even years? Here are six suggestions:

1. Humor

An important step to recovery is finding humor where possible. After the 1994 Northridge Quake, it was almost six months before no one ran out of my psychology classes when there was a moderate aftershock.

What helped was the “name-the-magnitude game.” Students would shout their estimates of “4.6,” “5.1,” and “4.9.” When it became a game, it was less frightening.

I also remember seeing a large apartment building near our campus that had totally collapsed. In front of it, a six-foot plywood sign with big red letters proclaimed, “The fat lady has sung.”

Because you can only experience one emotion at a time, laughter, even if it only lasts for a moment, temporarily blocks any other negative emotions you may be feeling.

2. Return to your normal routines as quickly as possible

This can be extraordinarily difficult when your house, which is the safe place and sanctuary for most people, has been destroyed or is uninhabitable.

As quickly as possible, begin keeping familiar routines with familiar people in familiar surroundings. This can include work, your place of worship, the gym — anywhere you go that was part of your normal routine before the devastating event.

3. Increase your self-care

Stress shows up as muscle tension, aches and pains. Exercising helps and massage is particularly effective. Also, avoid binging on junk food to relieve the stress.

Junk food feeds the unhealthy bacteria in your gut, which makes it harder for the beneficial bacteria that promote healthy gut functions to survive.

Other ideas include spending time in peaceful surroundings, watching the kids laughing and playing, going dancing, gardening, taking a hot bath, reading a great book — whatever grounds you and makes you feel better.

4. Eliminate all non-essential activities and projects

Most people have a huge list of to-do’s, many of which are unimportant. To cope, identify the three activities that you must complete for your business and your personal well-being each day, and make completing them a priority. Also, be aware that it will probably take longer to accomplish tasks than it has in the past.

In terms of the remaining items on your list, prioritize them and focus on completing only what is most essential. Also, avoid taking on any new projects.

It’s important to conserve your energy to navigate through the traumatic aftereffects rather than becoming stressed out about what you “should” be doing.

5. Focus on what you can do

If you are outside an area impacted by a major disaster, take action by supporting the massive relief efforts for organizations like the Red Cross.

If you live in an area that is impacted, take care of setting your own life in order first. At that point, you can help others.

6. Share your smile and gratitude

When you smile at someone and he or she smiles back at you, you gave that person the gift of the feel-good neurotransmitters that can mitigate the pain, sorrow and/or stress they’re experiencing.

Expressing your gratitude, even for the smallest thing, helps you to reclaim your balance. It can also go a long way in helping others to reduce the stress they may be experiencing.

Hurricane, flood and fire seasons end, horrific memories often fade as routine life continues, and laughter and joy can return if you let them.

Bernice Ross, CEO of, is a national speaker, author and trainer with over 1,000 published articles and two best-selling real estate books. Learn about her training programs at

Email Bernice Ross

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