Finding Support and Coping with Stress After a Traumatic Event

People light candles at a makeshift memorial in tribute to the victims of Paris' attacks' on November 15, 2015 at the place d
People light candles at a makeshift memorial in tribute to the victims of Paris' attacks' on November 15, 2015 at the place de la Republique in Paris. Islamic State jihadists claimed a series of coordinated attacks by gunmen and suicide bombers in Paris on November 13 that killed at least 129 people in scenes of carnage at a concert hall, restaurants and the national stadium. AFP PHOTO / JOEL SAGET (Photo credit should read JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images)

The everyday activity of sitting at a sidewalk cafe, the pleasure of attending a concert or a soccer match, and the simple pleasures of everyday life were violated during these attacks. The target was "the man on the street," as we said -- but quality of life, pleasure, and freedom were also targeted.

The collective discourse on social media, as well the individual state of mind, became imprisoned by a simple emotional logic: fear, despair, hostility, and the notion of fighting obscure forces. Certain traumatic experiences may lead to mental health issues.

But what is trauma?
A trauma is an event in which you are suddenly and directly confronted with the reality of death. Anyone who can imagine himself on a café terrace, in a restaurant, or in a stadium could identify as a potential victim. Feeling unsafe in daily life leads to anxiety. Anxiety results from protests by your mind and your emotions. This explains why you're glued to the news, your fears and anxieties growing. You might even experience nightmares. If this lasts for several days, you may be experiencing traumatic stress.

How can you protect yourself against it?
Learning to impose media breaks, so that you don't become "addicted" to the event is necessary. To engage in a recreational activity, do something with your hands, play sports or music, or something creative can provide valuable relief. To get enough sleep is essential. To reduce your anxiety levels through relaxation exercises or to think about something else for a while is useful.

We must know that even when certain images or emotions become intrusive and repetitive for several days, they will progressively fade. If you experience bouts of fear, sweating, an accelerated heart rate or abdominal pain -- all of which are signs of anxiety -- you must resort to tools of relaxation. Gestures of public sympathy, including moments of silence, flowers, candles, and messages of support seem to transform a feeling of passive victimhood into a feeling of support and resistance.

Within your family, you should explain to children that there are people who attack the "little pleasures of life," and freedom, and kill to impose their ideas; all ages would understand this. To remind them of the permanent protection guaranteed by parents, families, loved ones, teachers and the adult world is also a simple message. Evoking these aspects constitute the "defusing" technique employed by medical-psychological crisis units.

Social media: A new form of collective protection.

The sense of belonging, expression and support created by social media is new. Some alerts indicate if one's friends are safe "in an area free of danger." The hashtag #porteouverte (open door) offers a safe place to stay for victims close to the location of attacks. The online circulation and addition of photos of the French flag, the creation of meetings, discussions and exchanges all help, and liberate thought and its expression. Social media plays the role of creating social ties, but also offers a cathartic venue for expressing emotions, thoughts, and actions.

Positive mental health allows us to appreciate life. To neglect these simple measures exposes us to excessive stress and to its psychosomatic consequences.

This post first appeared on HuffPost France. It has been translated into English and edited for clarity.

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