Trauma and Emotional Recovery

By DeeDee Acquisto, MS, Director, Health & Human Services, MusiCares

trauma recovery, emotional recovery, artist, disaster recovery, rebounding

Flood … fire ... hurricane ...
Illness … surgery ... loss of physical ability through disease, aging or accidents ...
Physical, emotional or sexual abuse ...
Sickness or loss of loved ones ... job loss or other financial insecurities ...

There are many causes of trauma, and just as many responses. But experts on trauma agree that recovery doesn’t just “happen” — it’s a process that usually involves positive, self-preserving action.

Generally, that action begins with recognizing both the physical and emotional symptoms of distress that the traumatic source or event has caused. Even those who think they are “handling it well” may experience symptoms of physical and/or emotional distress while the mind and body come to terms with the traumatic event or situation.  And the effects and symptoms of trauma and physical distress can impact a person months, even years after the actual event or situation.

Symptoms of trauma may include: anxiety, insomnia, agitation  irritability or rage ... flashbacks or intrusive memories ... feeling “disconnected” from the world ... unrest in certain situations ... unusual passivity, feelings of depression, guilt or “survivor guilt” ...  being emotionally “shut down” ... changes in eating behaviors; repetitive, compulsive actions ... unusual fears ... impatience, distractibility ... excessive risk-taking ... feelings of worthlessness; feeling unlikeable or “less than” ... feeling unsafe ... wishing to hurt oneself ... use, overuse or misuse of substances, gambling or the Internet ... overwork ... social and emotional isolation.

If you’ve recognized any of these symptoms, what can you do?

Accept that you can’t deal with this stressor alone, that you need help.

Discuss your situation with a professional who is trained in trauma support. Use the resource lists below to identify those whose expertise is in working with the creative, artistic and/or musician communities.

In the days following a traumatic event, find time — even a few moments — to rest, relax, recuperate and recharge your physical and spiritual energies. Focus on regular nutrition, exercise and sleep habits, to stay strong and avoid getting run-down or sick. Stress takes an incredible and often unrecognizable toll on one’s ability to bounce back.

Connect with peers, friends, others who have survived this trauma or had similar experiences. Share feelings, concerns, strategies, resources.

With the help of these supporters, and of other resources (see Resources for Dealing with the Effects of Trauma), identify what aspects of your situation you can change and what aspects you can’t. Make a list of those tasks or areas in which you can make an impact or exert some control over. Break those down into simple “to-do” lists, and begin to tackle those tasks as you are able and prepared to do so.

Understand that the recovery process takes time and effort — don’t expect yourself and those affected around you to simply “snap out of it.” Everyone’s recovery from trauma is different. There is no timetable.

Acknowledge that the same personal and emotional strength and creativity that have enabled you to endure as an artistic professional will also help you come through this trauma — perhaps even informing and enhancing your artistic expression.  Use your art to help define your traumatic event, and to provide you with the means to process and integrate it into your life.

It's a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Stress and emotional distress are a very real part of every emergency. Four glass artists whose Brooklyn, NY studio was flooded during Hurricane Sandy discuss how they were coping with the emotional side of recovery.


You Don't Have to Be a Victim

Furniture maker Russell Karkowski talks about dealing with stress after his studio was flooded in 2008.

The American Red Cross has excellent tips for Taking Care of Your Emotional Health After a Disaster. Among those is to recognize symptoms of stress common to difficult situations including disasters:

  • Feeling physically and mentally drained
  • Having difficulty making decisions or staying focused on topics
  • Becoming easily frustrated on a frequent basis
  • Frustration occurring more quickly and more often
  • Arguing more with family and friends
  • Feeling tired, sad, numb, lonely or worried
  • Experiencing changes in appetite or sleep patterns

Resources for Dealing with the Effects of Trauma on this site has a listing of organizations and websites where you can seek more information and assistance.