Try these tools to process emotions

UNC Healthy Heels offers mental health strategies to cope with a traumatic event.

A crowd of people gathered at a bell tower for a remembrance.
(Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Trauma can make it hard to go about your normal life. It can shake your sense of safety — on campus and beyond. Although people will experience a traumatic event differently, it can have a very real impact on your mental health and well-being. Your responses may begin immediately, or you may feel fine for a couple of days — or even weeks — and suddenly have a reaction.

There are many tools to help you as you begin to cope.

Strategies to cope

  • Give yourself time to feel and process your emotions. There is no right way to react to the campus shooting on Aug. 28. Let yourself feel what you’re feeling. Remember, emotions are normal, and they will shift with time. Have patience with yourself.
  • Talk about it. For most people, the act of telling someone how we feel and being genuinely heard can support healing in powerful ways. When you feel ready, ask for support from people who care about you and who will listen to your concerns. It often helps to have a conversation with others who have shared your experience so you do not feel alone. Remember that some people won’t feel ready to talk or process; be open to a range of needs.
  • Take care of the basics. Eat regularly, get good sleep and move your body. Familiar tasks can be a comfort and put psychological distance between you and the event. Let go of unnecessary to-do items. Make small decisions, even when you feel that it’s unimportant, to regain a sense of control. Try to keep up your regular routine if you can.
  • Add more self-care when you’re ready. When your energy allows, re-engage in self-care routines like physical activity. Spend time with people – talk or just be together. Participate in activities that bring you happiness, pleasure and a sense of normalcy.
  • Create calm. Trauma can increase stress and anxiety, but research shows that pausing, taking a breath and finding ways to create calm can help us cope with stressful situations. Use your thoughts and environment to remind your body that it is safe.
  • Practice compassion. This could mean being gentle and respectful of the range of responses to trauma, even if you don’t understand them.
  • Do something to help. Action can help us regain a sense of control in situations that might otherwise seem overwhelming. If you’re able, engage in constructive activities that lift your spirits. Lend a supportive ear to someone who needs it. Feel empowered to step up for those who you see struggling and act as an advocate for those around you. Helping someone else often has the benefit of making you feel better and creates a culture of care and support.
  • Know your resources. You deserve support, and reaching out should help you cope and heal sooner. There are many ways to get support for yourself or people close to you. At UNC-Chapel Hill, you can use the Resource Hub on the Heels Care Network to filter for the resources that will work best at this moment. You can filter by your role on campus, identity group, immediacy of need and so much more. From peer support like LSN to trainings and professional mental health care, the resource hub can help you find what you need for mental health and well-being.
  • Get mental health support. Talking to a mental health professional may be the most immediate and helpful way to cope. CAPS 24/7 is available by phone (919) 966-3658. Additional mental health resources can be found at care.unc.edu.

For more information and strategies, see College Students: Coping after the Recent Shooting.

Adapted from content by UNC Counseling and Psychological Services, the JED Foundation, the American Psychological Association and SAMHSA.