Coping Guidelines for All of Us

As PTSD becomes an epidemic in our nation, we need to know how to cope

Posted Sep 28, 2016

rose sword
Source: rose sword

In the last few months, we've witnessed a series of American tragedies, in large part due to their exposure on our social media. This chronology of mass murder includes: African American men killed in police shootings (Terence Crutcher and Keith Scott being the most recent), twelve police officers shot (five killed), as well as two civilians shot by an Afghan War vet, 50 innocent people killed in a nightclub in Orlando by a homegrown terrorist, and a surge in ethnic, religious, and LGBT hate crimes.

Other than pointing out that violent acts of intolerance have increased in this presidential election cycle, we’ll leave the reasons for this upswing to political and social pundits. But we can address how our natural curiosity for more information; the whos, whats, whys and wheres of each incident, is quickly capitalized on by the media as their videos are placed in an endless loop on every news source. They continue with their mantra, “If it bleeds, it leads.” That means violence is attention getting and showing it up close and often gets more viewers which get higher ratings which get more advertiser dollars on those media channels. While a heightened awareness of the violence that plagues our country is important, it can also leave us feeling anxious and depressed.

Secondary PTSD

After 911, the medical community steadfastly determined it is possible to suffer from PTSD not only by being part of the event, but also by viewing or hearing about a traumatic event that is distant from one’s home base. This form of PTSD is known as secondary PTSD and was brought to the attention of mental health professionals when they noted that wives and children of Vietnam War veterans suffering from PTSD also displayed PTSD symptoms. With this knowledge, how can we not be affected by the bombardment of info as well as the realization that these PTSD-making events are occurring on an increasingly frequent basis? The answer is: We can't.

But we can take a stand to help ourselves and each other when we note that the traumas we witness or are part of are starting to negatively affect our thoughts and behavior. For decades, Phil has researched and worked with the government and universities on the psychology of terrorism, including how it affects victims, while Rose has assisted a variety of people from many different backgrounds who were suffering from PTSD. With our combined knowledge, we've put together a list of coping guidelines. Although originally intended for first responders and mental health professionals, the following guidelines are pertinent for all of us:

12 Coping Guidelines

1. Respect the trauma/tragedy – acknowledge and be sensitive to the severity of the situation and how profoundly it affects everyone, but also determine how it is personally interpreted differently by each person with varied scenarios.

2. Seek balance – it takes an equal and opposite action to balance the terrible trauma that has occurred. Replace the past negative trauma that may plague you with present-centered positive deeds, thoughts, words and actions.

3. Be compassionate – always show kindness via a willing ear, sincere smile, make eye contact, learn first names, give a gentle touch or hug – all are simple healing balms.

4. Promote community cooperative compassion – help people form natural support groups with shared phone numbers and email contacts.

5. Stay mentally and physically strong - don’t succumb to the overwhelming negative situation (The Lucifer Effect – see link below for Phil’s TED Talk). It’s important to be solid when others need you the most.

6. Don’t bring your own personal disaster to a societal disaster – as much as possible, put your personal feelings aside when you are helping others. You can become an emotional casualty yourself if you aren’t careful.

7. Focus – on solution(s), not the problem(s). Rather than focusing on the trauma (past negative), move forward slowly, carefully and deliberately away from the problem and toward the solution (future positive). Don’t become stuck in the past negative. Encourage selected present hedonism, fun activities as self-rewards.

8. Honor and respect those who lost their lives or were injured – the best way to honor those who have died or have sustained a life-changing injury is to figure out how best to help those left behind, or all those whom you can help.

9. Be aware of your limitations – walk away if you find yourself slipping into exhaustion, depression or anxiety. Take care of yourself; you can’t help anyone if you aren’t feeling up to the job. Do seek professional help if your mental distress lasts more than a few days.

10. Extend your empathy – not only the victims, but to their loved ones. Even harder is to show empathy toward the perpetrators who must learn to cope with their own guilt and other issues.

11. Avoid judgmental attitudes – as well as generalizations toward ethnic and/or religious groups; focus on understanding, compassion and constructive actions.

12. Encourage the faculties that promote everyday heroes – being socio-centric, optimistic, self-confident and practice being a “hero-in-training,” while challenging the negatives of egocentrism, cynicism, pessimism and public apathy. (Visit: www.

How do you know if you have PTSD?

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association, after a traumatic event if you suffer from symptoms that include depression, anxiety, flashbacks, avoidance, isolation, difficulty falling and/or staying asleep, difficulty concentrating, irritability, an exaggerated startle response and hypervigilance, you may have Acute Stress Disorder (ASD). If these symptoms last longer than a month, then you may suffer from PTSD.

PTSD is made up of three basic things: trauma, depression and anxiety. We encourage you to visit our column This is Your Brain for a detailed description of symptoms at cure/201404/is-your-brain.

And remember…

The events we’ve witnessed are devastating and their many associated impacts may be felt for years to come. But one day, this too shall pass. Life will get back to normal – maybe a new and different normal – but normalcy will surely return. There will always be some bad times mixed in with the good times for each of us personally and for our nation.

It is the Yin and Yang of our existence. And there will be a brighter tomorrow for each of us - helpers, those who are helped, and those who have witnessed the tragedy. Our job then is to keep the brightness in our hearts aglow to offset the ever-present darkness of Evil.

We wish you all the best,

Phil Zimbardo and Rose Sword

For more in depth information about how your life is affected by the mental time zones that you live in, please check out our website: and our books: The Time Cure ( and The Time Paradox (

Learn how to cope with stress and anxiety; visit

Visit our Psychology Today blogs at, search Rosemary Sword to get a fuller appreciation of how to create a more balanced time perspective in your life!


E Medicine Health -

Mayo Clinic –

National Center for PTSD –

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) -

Help with Stress and Trauma -

National Child Traumatic Stress Network -

The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good PeopleTurn Evil TED Talk by Phil Zimbardo -