Resilience: Serenity Meets Crisis

In a crisis, we are left asking, “How does life go on?” Some will believe life can’t, or shouldn’t go on. Eventually, we ask with hope, “What can we do to start putting our lives back together?”

Our lives are much more fragile than most of us can grasp. A crisis slams us with the reality of how vulnerable we truly are. When human beings experience disaster, we respond with shock and denial. Like airbags, shock and denial are defenses that cushion the harsh impact of abhorrent reality. They are our allies.

By studying human responses to crises, psychologists have discovered some common reactions for adults and children when shock subsides, and some hopeful steps for building resilience. These steps will help you find your place on the psychological map, and to chart your road to recovery.

Some common adult responses to trauma include:

  • Mood Swings –fear, sadness, irritability, despondency coming from nowhere or quickly following laughter or morbid curiosity
  • Recurring “Flashbacks” – intense distress in response to “triggers” reminders of the fires such as sirens, smoke, ash, etc. These can last for months or years.
  • Confusion – repetitive thoughts, difficulty concentrating and/or remembering, strong urge to get and keep control of life
  • Physical Symptoms – aches and pains, nausea, chest pain, existing conditions worsened by stress

Some common child responses to trauma include:

  • Regression – returning to behaviors from earlier development like thumb sucking, bedwetting, etc.
  • Clinging – demanding physical contact and/or adult proximity
  • Out of Sync – resisting bed time, ignoring chores, opposing parents
  • Withdrawal – Avoiding friends, family and usual activities
  • Physical Complaints – stomach aches, headaches, etc.

How to Help Ourselves and Each Other:

  • Be Gracious – (with ourselves and others) kindly accepting that we and others may not act like we imagine people “should”
  • Physical Health – take care of our bodies including, rest/relaxation, nutrition, exercise, watch for substance abuse (things we often ignore in our distress)
  • Connection – avoid isolation, tell your story, patiently listen to others, consider joining a support group
  • Avoid Big Decisions – do what you must but recognize that our judgment can be impaired by trauma

How to Help Our Kids:

  • Initiate More Contact – be more physically and emotionally affectionate (as our kids allow it) especially if they are clingy
  • Talk Abut the crisis – better to risk raising it than allowing them to carry distress alone. Approach the conversation in broad, general terms, meeting them where they are. Consider drawing, make believe games or storytelling about the fire for younger children
  • Keep Familiar Schedules – as much as is reasonable, meals, bedtimes, etc. provide normalcy to life after a trauma
  • Validate Their Feelings
  • Reassure Them – tell them of the steps you take to protect them

If you find yourself or your children to be stuck in unhealthy feelings, thoughts and/or behaviors, consider talking to your physician or consulting with a mental health professional. Human beings have the potential to grow through crisis in significant ways. If our target is to get back to life the way it was before the crisis, we’re aiming too low. By accepting the things we can not change and changing the things we can, we will be better more quickly.

For more help, go to There you will find more information and a downloadable brochure The Road to Resilience (also available in Spanish).