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Traumatic Events

Traumatic Events

At some point in their lives, many people experience a traumatic event. Trauma means different things to different people, and can include any event in which you experience a serious threat to your own life or safety, or witnessing such an event. In response to traumatic events, people have a range of reactions, including emotional (e.g. fear, sadness, helplessness, anger), physical (e.g. trouble sleeping and eating, shakiness), and cognitive (e.g. trouble concentrating, preoccupation with the traumatic event). Many people also feel numb after experiencing a traumatic event. Sometimes a person only labels an experience as traumatic in retrospect, even many years later. After experiencing a traumatic event, it is important to seek support from family, friends, other members of your community, and/or a counselor.

Although trauma affects people differently, there are some common reactions that you may experience. These signs may begin immediately, or you may feel fine for a couple of days or even weeks, then suddenly be hit with a reaction. The important thing to remember is that these reactions are quite normal; although you may feel some distress, you're probably experiencing a normal reaction to an abnormal situation.

Some common responses to traumatic events

Physical Reactions:

  • insomnia/nightmares
  • fatigue
  • hyperactivity or "nervous energy"
  • appetite changes
  • pain in the neck or back
  • headaches
  • heart palpitations or pains in the chest
  • dizzy spells

Emotional Reactions:

  • flashbacks or "reliving" the event
  • excessive jumpiness or tendency to be startled
  • irritability
  • anger
  • feelings of anxiety or helplessness

Effect on Productivity

  • inability to concentrate
  • increased incidence of errors
  • lapses of memory
  • increase in absenteeism

Ways to Cope with Traumatic Stress

  • Be tolerant of your reactions -- they are normal and will subside with time for most people. Acknowledge that it may be awhile before you are entirely back to "normal".
  • Give yourself time. You may feel better for a while, then have a "relapse". This is normal. Allow plenty of time to adjust to the new realities.
  • Spend time with others, even though it may be difficult at first. It's easy to withdraw when you're hurt, but now you need the company of others.
  • Talk about the experience with your friends. For most people, talking helps relieve some of the intense emotions we feel under stress.
  • Try to keep your normal routine. Staying active will keep your mind on events other than the trauma, will give you a sense of comfort with familiar tasks, and will help put some psychological "distance" between you and the event.
  • Structure your time even more carefully than usual. It's normal to forget things when you're under stress. Keep lists, and double-check any important work.
  • Maintain control where you can. Make small decisions, even if you feel that it's unimportant or you don't care. It's important to maintain control in some areas of your life.
  • Let the event activate you to do something about the causes of the trauma or allow you to feel more control, e.g., join groups that address issues related to the event, look for ways to help others.
  • Ask for help if you are particularly bothered by your reactions to the event, or notice that they interfere substantially with your daily activities or social life.

Post Traumatic Stress Checklist

Talking to someone you trust is often helpful in recovering from a traumatic event. The Health Services Counseling Department is available to offer you support and guidance. Call 218-726-7913 for an appointment.

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Last modified on 11/13/12 08:33 AM
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