Friday, February 1, 2008

Stress of Violence in Kenya

Coping with the Emotional Stress of Election Riots in Kenya

First things first, here are some helpful links:

1. The Kenya Red Cross – Donate Online

2. Mama Mikes – Donate food and essential vouchers to displaced Kenyans

3. Sambazanow – Donate cell phone airtime

4. Save Kenya Now – List of urgently needed items and how to donate

5. Standard Newspaper – Latest information from Kenyan newspaper

6. Ushahidi – Documented incidents and how to help

7. Rape Crisis Centers – Help stop additional violence against Kenyan women and girls

2 Corinthians 1:3-4, Psalm 34:18

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (NIV).

We are all deeply saddened and shocked at the violence that has claimed over 800 lives since the Kenyan elections on December 27th last year. What most people are not acknowledging is the emotional toll of the riots and violence.

Children who know about the violence

1. Limit their exposure to television news and gory details of what is happening. Depending on age, younger children who are under 7 years might believe the events are currently occurring when allowed to watch TV rebroadcasts.
2. Reassure them that you will do your best to protect them. Children need a protective barrier around them during a crisis to lessen their stress and trauma.
3. Your children might start being overly clingy and begging you not to leave them at home. Do not punish them for expressing fear or neediness; reassure them when you leave for work, you will come back in the evening.
4. Children over 7 years have some understanding of the protests and are frightened of becoming victims – reassure them that you will protect them as best as you can.
5. They will likely exhibit sleeping problems, increased wandering at night and probably experience nightmares depending on exposure to violence.
6. Keep their play, bedtime and feeding routines constant – it will create a sense of security and help them transition easier.
7. If your day center, nursery school or regular school has opened, let your child attend after you gauge the safety.
8. Do not be lax in your discipline – let your children know you still expect them to behave and do the right thing. You are in charge, they don’t have to be the adult.
9. Let them know you love them and understand how they are feeling but maintain a firm parental role. Hug them as much as possible – a loving touch heals.

Children experiencing direct violence

These children have suffered violence and have witnessed their loved ones being beaten, murdered, or their homes burned.

1. If you can get through on the phone lines, call the Kenya Red Cross or a local church or other worship facility offering professional or lay trained counselors.
2. Get the children to a safe house and away from the violence. If you are a grandfather or relative of a child who has witnessed the violence, you should be the first one to volunteer a safe place for them.
3. If the children are missing a guardian due to the violence or have been abandoned, please point them towards the nearest police station or notify the local broadcast stations to announce where a safe house is located.
4. Do not abandon the children, try to locate the nearest camp offering food and shelter – Kenya Red Cross can help.
5. Open the local phone directory and call some orphanages in the city centers and non-governmental organizations willing to help.
6. Take the children to a medical centre if they are physically wounded then take them to a local safe place.
7. If the hospitals are overwhelmed, please be willing to wait or consider going to the local clinic or dispensary.
8. The children will not talk about what they saw at first, they are probably in shock – give them a chance to process, they’ll let you know when they are ready to talk.
9. The immediate needs will be food, shelter, medicine and clothes – then psychological help.

Taking Care of Yourself

1. If you feel a need to cry, please cry and do not try to justify your reason. We are wired to express a variety of emotions through our tears and yes, men do cry. Give yourself the permission to let your grief, anger, disappointment and exhaustion out.
2. You might feel an obsessive need to keep talking about the events, that’s normal as well. Talking about it wears down its power over you.
3. Limit the amount of time you spend watching, listening or reading news. Give yourself a break to focus on your family and immediate surrounding. Your mind and heart need a break from the constant barrage of negative news.
4. Your sleeping habits might be interrupted and you might lose interest in being intimate with your spouse. This is expected as your body responds to the stress in your mind and emotions. Just as with the children, keep your bedtime routine if possible. Establish a boundary where you create a peaceful haven, pray, play praise music, sit quietly, or read an uplifting book.
5. Your appetite might lessen or increase as your body kicks into the flight or fight mode. You will notice an increased desire to eat carbohydrates, our bodies’ preferred source of energy. Regulate yourself to make sure you are nourished well without overeating. Hunger will make your emotions more exaggerated and overeating will add a myriad of other feelings.
6. You might notice an increased suspicion towards your neighbors or friends from other tribes. This is the saddest development from the riots. Acknowledge your feelings and consciously make a choice to act in a loving manner towards them. In a time of heated emotions, your heart will need a nudge through programming your mind to behave courteously. Do not throw away friendships and lifetime relationships.
7. If you are in an intertribal marriage like myself, acknowledge the comfort or discomfort arising from your fresh awareness. If possible acknowledge it to your spouse and remind yourself why you love them and chose them to be your life mate. If the emotions are too raw for you at the moment, there’s no need to rush the healing. Take your time and remember your spouse is part of your inner circle not outside it – heal together.
8. Pray – Whether you are religious or not, acknowledging God’s ability to heal will give you a semblance of peace.
9. It is perfectly normal to be angry with God and to want to blame Him for the trouble. Express that to Him and get it out of your system, He is big enough to handle it.
10. There are numerous churches and pastors available to help. Whichever religion you practice, reach out and talk to a trusted spiritual leader. We are body, soul and spirit – keep yourself physically safe, emotionally stable and spiritually connected to cope with the stress.
11. Realize that you might begin experiencing depression and/or post-traumatic stress disorder months after January, 2008. It is not a sign of weakness to admit feeling depressed. It is not a sin and does not mean you are ‘crazy’ or losing your mind. Depression has many sources, some are emotional, spiritual, biological (diet) and others are due to chemical imbalances in the brain.
12. Christians should seek help for depression. Apostle Paul experienced it after being shipwrecked and most of us consider him a pioneer in Christianity. Seeking help will prevent your situation from lapsing into a worse disorder.
13. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) will need professional counseling – open the phone book and call local counseling centers when offices open up. Realize that part of the treatment might include prescribed medication. Just as our bodies get sick and need medical help, our minds get sick through chemical imbalances and need medicine to restore serotonin levels. Some depression can alleviate through competent counseling, change of diet, prayer and a good support group. Get help.
14. Serve others – concentrating on others will help you cope with your own stress.
a. Offer to go to the store and buy milk and bread for your neighbor,
b. Cook a meal and offer the children who might be lost and wandering through your neighborhood.
c. Visit single parents and elders who might be alone and overwhelmed.
d. Buy and donate phone card minutes to friends or families in need.
e. Offer your cell phone to a stranger who frantically needs to call his family.
Service will bless you more than those receiving it. It will increase your feel good hormones and help restore your hope in tomorrow.
15. Keep your hope and faith alive – this too shall pass. It is a season and a phase in time, it will not last forever.


1. If there are counselors in Nairobi who are either professional, lay trained, church trained or have a heart to help the wounded, please call organizations, churches and relief agencies that need counselors or volunteers.
2. Please be aware most people will be expressing a need for more practical help than psychological help. They might ask you to help with food, medicine, shelter or clothes.
3. Inform yourself of the closest organizations providing emergency supplies. If no one has reached your town yet, get on your cell phone and make some noise for the sake of the people.
4. Call organizations directly – call the Nation or the Standard paper and ask for media help.
5. Take care of yourself as you counsel and help others. Recognize your own signs of exhaustion and avoid becoming a victim. Consult with other counselors and care providers.

About the Author

I am a born-again Christian woman who believes God will restore our broken places and heal our beautiful country Kenya. Secondly I am married to an amazing jazz guitarist & worship pastor and a mother to the funniest 2-year-old boy. I am in my final semester of a Masters program in counseling psychology (mental health and marriage/family therapy). I am a certified premarital/marriage education provider and a Church counselor. I have a passionate love for God and helping people find healing in all areas of life. Last and not least, I am a proud Kenyan still thanking God for my heritage despite the sad turn of events. I believe all things are possible with God and Kenya’s greatest days lay ahead – Amen.

© 2008 Julia N. Sanna

If you quote any part of this article, please give due credit to the author, Julia Sanna. For more information email and visit


    1. The info is very comprehensive. Will forward it to others!

    2. I appreciate your effort to help others in managing stress.

      Even I followed some stress management tips to relieve myself from worst situation of stress and anxiety. I agree that this kind of workshops and stop stressing programs are truly helpful.

      I will share this info to all my friends.



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