As the second anniversary of the Tree of Life shooting approaches, many people in our community may be wondering why they are still experiencing negative emotions such as sadness, fear or anger. If you have been feeling this way, know that you are not alone and this can be a completely normal response.
People often judge themselves or think that something is wrong with them if they are still having an emotional response to a traumatic event months or even years later. Unfortunately, our society often sends the message that we are supposed to “get over” grief or trauma at some point, but that’s simply not how the process works.
In fact, how we navigate the processes of responding to a traumatic event and grief are as unique to each of us as our DNA is. You may not necessarily move through the traditional stages of grief, including denial, anger, bargaining and depression. You may visit some of those stages multiple times as you work to make sense of the experience and find meaning in it.
Although it’s normal to experience some emotions as part of an ongoing trauma response, it’s important to recognize when something more serious is going on. Some people do develop mood disorders, such as major depressive disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder, so it’s important to monitor yourself for signs and symptoms, including:
- Persistent low mood every day for at least two weeks
- Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness or guilt
- Increase in related emotions, such as anxiety, irritability or anger
- Changes in appetite or sleep patterns
- Low energy levels
- Unexplained physical symptoms, such as back pain or gastrointestinal issues
- Suicidal thoughts
- Flashbacks of the event
- Avoiding situations that remind you of the event
- Exacerbated emotional or physiological response to triggers, such as sirens
- Signs of hyperarousal, including insomnia, difficulty concentrating or having a heightened startle response
These symptoms warrant follow-up with a trained clinician, such as a licensed clinical social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist, who can provide effective treatment for these disorders. If you need immediate assistance, reach out to your local crisis hotline. In Allegheny County, re:Solve is the best resource for crisis situations. They can be reached at 888-796-8226.
Even if you aren’t concerned about depression or PTSD, it can still be helpful to get a little extra support around times when you are more likely to have a heightened emotional response, such as anniversaries or holidays. Reach out to talk to supportive friends or family members or schedule a time to connect with your therapist. Drop-in virtual counseling sessions will also be available.
JFCS Counseling Services