Coping with Traumatic World Events

Coping with Traumatic World Events

No doubt there are MIT community members who have been affected by the recent terrorist attacks in France and Mali. Some of our colleagues were in France or Mali when these attacks occurred, some of us know someone directly affected, others may have friends, family or colleagues in the affected countries. Many of us are shaken by the nature of the attacks and the fear of the unknown that often follows an act of terrorism. We often experience these types of events as disrupting our sense of safety, whether it is our family, our MIT work community, or the greater U.S. and the world.

Part of MIT’s mission statement notes that "We seek to develop in each member of the MIT community the ability and passion to work wisely, creatively, and effectively for the betterment of humankind."

It can be challenging to keep an open mind, an open heart, and an open hand when confronted with such devastation. However, it is important to maintain our respect for everyone at MIT -- to respect that fellow community members might have different opinions, and that people have traveled different paths to get here. 

Some common reactions to a traumatic event can include:

  • Wanting to talk about the events
  • Not wanting to talk about the events
  • Needing to be informed 24/7 of the latest news
  • Physical effects: difficulty sleeping, nightmares, nausea, easily startled, difficulty concentrating
  • Emotional effects: sadness, fear, guilt, grief, anger, shock

Your children might also respond to these events. Find out what is being said in school and ask your children questions about what they are thinking and feeling. Let them know it is ok to be upset when scary events happen. Try to establish as much control as you can by maintaining everyday routines and by managing the amount of, and the nature of, the media to which you and your child are exposed to minimize further trauma.

Here are some tips for yourself and others:

  • Understand that the varied reactions that you and others may have are normal responses to an abnormal event.
  • Try to follow a normal routine.
  • Manage the amount of media you are watching.
  • Control what you can control:  get rest, exercise, be with family and friends, and possibly take actions that help you learn, understand, and create dialogue with others who are interested.
  • Let go of trying to control things you can’t control.
  • Notice if someone else appears to be struggling. Reach out.
  • Get help if you are continuing to experience distress as a result of these events. 

For further information and assistance, call the MIT Work-Life Center, MIT Medical, or counselors, pastors, and friends in your own life who can help. For information and ideas about helping your children with any effects of the terrorist attacks, our partner, Bright Horizons, has offered some very helpful materials. The piece, "What Happened to the World" by the late Jim Greenman, Bright Horizons’ long-term education leader, and other materials have been developed for parents, educators and caregivers to help children cope in turbulent times. Visit these resources.

Additional resources for talking with your children can be found at the following websites: