Stress Management

After a Traumatic Event

You have experienced a traumatic event or critical incident (any event that causes unusually strong emotional reactions and that have the potential to interfere with the ability to function normally).

Even though the event may be over, you may now be experiencing, or may experience later, some strong emotional or physical reactions.

It is very common and quite normal for people to experience emotional aftershocks when they have passed through a horrible event.

Emotional Aftershocks

Sometimes the emotional aftershocks (or stress reactions) appear immediately after, a few hours later or days after traumatic event. In some cases, weeks or months may pass before the stress reactions appear.

The signs and symptoms of a stress reaction may last a few days, weeks, months, or longer depending on the severity of the traumatic event.

The understanding and support of loved ones usually causes the stress reaction to pass more quickly. Occasionally, the traumatic event is so painful that professional assistance may be necessary.

Things to Try

Within the first 24 to 48 hours, periods of appropriate exercise, alternated with relaxation, will alleviate some of the physical symptoms.

  • Structure your time and keep busy
  • Remember that you are normal, having a normal reaction to an abnormal event. Don’t start labeling yourself as crazy.
  • Reach out to friends and family. Talk to them and spend time with others. People do care.
  • Be aware of numbing the pain with overuse of drugs and/or alcohol. You don’t need to complicate this with a substance abuse problem.
  • Maintain as normal a schedule as possible.
  • Help your co-workers as much as possible by sharing feelings and checking out how they are doing.
  • Give yourself permission to feel rotten and share your feelings with others.
  • Keep a journal; write your way through those sleepless hours.
  • Do things that feel good to you.
  • Realize those around you are under stress.
  • Don’t make any big life changes.
  • Do make as many daily decisions as possible that will give you a sense of control over your life.
  • Get plenty of rest. Don’t try to fight reoccurring thoughts, dreams, or flashbacks – they are normal and will decrease over time and become less painful.
  • Eat well-balanced and regular meals (even if you don’t feel like it).

For Family Members and Friends

  • Listen Carefully
  • Spend time with the traumatized person
  • Offer your assistance and listening ear if they have not asked for help
  • Reassure them that they are safe
  • Help them with everyday tasks like cleaning, cooking, caring for family and minding children
  • Give them some private time
  • Don’t take their anger or other feelings personally
  • Don’t tell them that they are “lucky it wasn’t worse”. Such statements do not console a traumatized person. Instead, tell them that you are sorry such an event occurred and you want to understand and assist them.