You’re a coach. That also means you’re a parent, a guidance counselor, a nutritionist, an athletic trainer, a janitor, and even a therapist. Most days we’re used to wearing all those different hats, and even embrace it. I’m happy to talk to my team about what to eat before competition, or give them advice on what classes to take next year. I’m even ok cleaning up after them sometimes. But when tragedy strikes, at home, near by, or anywhere in our nation, it can be hard to know how to help. Our athletes often look to us to be their source of strength, to be their support system. They look to us to know what to do, and know what to say. Especially when we are still reeling from a tragedy ourselves, it can be very hard to know what to do.
The American Psychological Association has 7 tips for managing your distress after a tragic event. Whether you need the support yourself, or you’re looking for ideas of how to best support your team, here are the professional’s suggestions. (Note: This is an excerpt from the APA. You can read the whole article here).
7 Tips for Managing Distress After a Tragedy
- Talk about it. Ask for support from people who care about you and who will listen to your concerns. Receiving support and care can be comforting and reassuring. It often helps to speak with others who have shared your experience so you do not feel so different or alone.
- Strive for balance. When a tragedy occurs, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and have a negative or pessimistic outlook. Balance that viewpoint by reminding yourself of people and events which are meaningful and comforting, even encouraging. Striving for balance empowers you and allows for a healthier perspective on yourself and the world around you.
- Turn it off and take a break. You may want to keep informed, but try to limit the amount of news you take in whether it’s from the Internet, television, newspapers or magazines. While getting the news informs you, being overexposed to it can actually increase your stress. The images can be very powerful in reawakening your feeling of distress. Also, schedule some breaks to distract yourself from thinking about the incident and focus instead on something you enjoy. Try to do something that will lift your spirits.
- Honor your feelings. Remember that it is common to have a range of emotions after a traumatic incident. You may experience intense stress similar to the effects of a physical injury. For example, you may feel exhausted, sore or off balance.
- Take care of yourself. Engage in healthy behaviors to enhance your ability to cope with excessive stress. Eat well-balanced meals, get plenty of rest and build physical activity into your day. Avoid alcohol and drugs because they can suppress your feelings rather than help you to manage and lessen your distress. In addition, alcohol and drugs may intensify your emotional or physical pain. Establish or re-establish routines such as eating meals at regular times and following an exercise program. If you are having trouble sleeping, try some relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation or yoga.
- Help others or do something productive. Locate resources in your community on ways that you can help people who have been affected by this incident, or have other needs. Helping someone else often has the benefit of making you feel better, too.
- If you have recently lost friends or family in this or other tragedies. Remember that grief is a long process. Give yourself time to experience your feelings and to recover. For some, this might involve staying at home; for others it may mean getting back to your daily routine. Dealing with the shock and trauma of such an event will take time. It is typical to expect many ups and downs, including “survivor guilt” — feeling bad that you escaped the tragedy while others did not.
Caring for Others While Caring for Yourself
As coaches, we are in a position to help those around us and guide them through life, both the good and the bad. Don’t forget to take care of yourself too. They’re looking to you, and you have the chance to be a powerful example for how to handle these difficult situations with strength. It can be challenging to even know how to go on with a normal day. If a tragedy strikes close to home, it may be a good idea to cancel practice but still have everyone come together to use that time to talk and be supportive. Remind the team that everyone process and grieves differently and there is no ‘right way’ to react. Just being there as a team and using the tips above can make a big difference for your athletes.