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Emotional fallout: The crisis after the crisis

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

After the emergency is over

The emergency is over. The crisis done. So why are you so on edge? Why does a siren make you flinch? Why does your daughter hide under the bed every time the wind blows? Why does your son cry when it rains -- and almost as much as the rain?

mom-talking-to-son

This is the crisis after the crisis, when your emotional self, and the emotional selves of every member of your family, big to little, tries to manage and process the stress that was just endured and get back to normal. It may feel impossible to get back to normal some days, but what you and your family are experiencing is very much normal.

The events of our lives make up who we are as much as genetics. When crises and emergencies and disasters happen, they become a part of who we are -- but it can take time to integrate them in to our lives. This sometimes can become the "crisis after the crisis" as we try to figure out, "Whoa! What just happened to us?!" This is not necessarily post-traumatic stress disorder (though in some cases it could be). It's the stress after the stress, and the whole family may need a little help getting through it.

Lingering anxiety

After a traumatic event, whether an accident or a natural disaster or some other unexpected, stressful situation, it's natural to have lingering anxiety. There may be a certain sound, like the creaking of trees in the yard or sirens or some other noise that causes your stress level to rise and maybe a vivid memory or two. And if you are experiencing this type of stress, there's a good chance your child may experience similar lingering anxiety. Youth does not exempt a human being from some very complex emotions.

Respect the stress

Give this lingering stress a little respect, whatever it is that you and your family has been through recently. Accept that the stress is there. There's a lot that needs to be processed. Just because you and your family are safe and healthy and the crisis is physically over and you're so thankful for that, it's not necessarily over from an emotional perspective. There is much to process, whether you are five, 15 or 35.

Give it time and space

Give yourself and the members of your family time and space to process the emotions that linger after a crisis. Some need to be active and busy, while others need to just veg out a bit. Some need to talk, and some don't. How a person, toddler to adult, handles this stress will depend a lot on individual personality.

Get help if you need it

That said, you might get to a point when you think that you or a member of your family needs some help processing the emotions. There is not set time limit to wait for the issues to be "over." The sense that a family member needs help with it could come after two days, two weeks, two months or even much longer. But if you do think help is needed, get it. You and your family are not alone in the needing help to manage the emotional fallout of a major crisis, whether it was an individual event affecting only your family or a natural disaster affecting thousands. It's okay to need help, so get it.

However, depending on the intensity of the crisis and personalities involved, it may never be "over" like you might think is should be. Instead, perhaps you need help establishing a "new normal." That's completely reasonable and okay, too.

Give the time and emotional fluctuations of the immediate aftermath of a crisis respect. Understand what is happening for all of you, and be ready to get some help if you need it. There is no way a crisis cannot affect us! Understand it, integrate it and yes, you really will find normal again.

More on talking to kids about difficult topics

How to talk to your kids about death
Should you tell your kids about a grandparent's illness?
How to talk to your kids about natural disasters


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