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I Have All These Emotions, Is This Normal?

I can’t believe this happened here- so close to home! I don’t even feel safe anymore. I feel like I’m shaking all over!

“I can’t believe this happened here- so close to home! I don’t even feel safe anymore. I feel like I’m shaking all over!” These thoughts and words have been spoken and shared by many following the tragic shooting that took 14 lives and injured another 22 in San Bernardino, California on December 2, 2015.

When a major disaster or emergency situation occurs, the American Red Cross knows that people need emotional support. They are anxious; they may be stressed or worried at their current situation and what they face in the days and weeks ahead. That’s why the Red Cross has over 3,000 Disaster Mental Health volunteers nationwide, all of whom are licensed mental health professionals. These volunteers respond locally and nationally to help meet the emotional needs of individuals and communities affected by disasters and emergencies.

In San Bernardino, many residents feel their lives have been turned upside down and inside out. Their disbelief in experiencing something so horrific in their city has shaken many and made them wonder if they will ever feel “normal” again.

“These are common, normal feelings to a horrific trauma like this,” said Don Snookal, Disaster Mental Health Lead for the American Red Cross. “In time, these feelings will soften and pass.”

But for some, especially those who live close or have a connection with this incident, these feelings and thoughts may intensify and other signs of distress may interfere with relationships and daily tasks. “It’s important for friends and family to be aware of these reactions and what they can do if they feel they are having difficulties coping or if these feelings become more intense,” Snookal added.

Snookal’s team of professionals shared a list of what some normal reactions to an abnormal event or trauma might include:

Thinking: A person may experience trouble concentrating, a preoccupation with the event, or recurring dreams or nightmares. The event may bring back memories of past traumas and events or lead one to question their own spiritual beliefs. They may experience an inability to process the event, confusion, forgetfulness and difficulty problem solving.

Physical: One may experience headaches, fatigue, vague physical symptoms with no apparent cause or their medical problems may seem to become worse.

Emotional: There may be intense feelings of sadness or depression, irritability, anger, resentfulness, feelings of hopelessness or despair and feelings of guilt. One may feel unsure about the future and experience anxiety.

Behavior: There may be changes in appetite, disturbances in sleep patterns, and withdraw from social activities or isolating themselves from friends or family. One may feel weepy and cry easily or become easily startled. Avoiding any reference to the tragedy or conversely, repeatedly talking about it, may also occur. There may be increased conflict with family or friends.

Young children may experience all these reactions and need to be heard when expressing their fears. They too, may withdraw, or act out. Reassuring them that they are safe and loved is important. For teens, feelings may be more intense. They may feel self-conscious about their emotional reactions, and may appear indifferent to the event. Teens may want to be with their friends all the time, performance in school may suffer, or they may feel more intense anger, become highly self-critical, or reactive to “authority.”

All these feelings and reactions to traumatic events are normal. It takes time for these emotions and feelings to get better. The American Red Cross has trained professionals on hand to help. You aren’t alone. Things will get better, and the Red Cross is here to help.

Please click here for more information and tips on coping with disasters and emotional recovery.