Common Responses to Traumatic Events

Traumatic events can cause a variety of reactions, and usually affect people differently. Sometimes reactions happen immediately after experiencing or hearing about an event. You may feel fine for a number of days, even weeks, and then suddenly have a reaction. These reactions can last for a few days, weeks or sometimes months, depending upon your experience of the situation and/or your relationship with those who were involved with the traumatic event. Traumatic events can also have a ripple effect – family members, friends and co-workers may also affected.

It is important to remember that having some reaction is normal. Victor Frankl, a Nazi concentration camp survivor and author once said that “an abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior” (1951). Some of these normal reactions include.

Physical Reactions

  • Disrupted sleep, nightmares
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Appetite disturbance
  • Body pains (back, neck, stomach, etc.)

Emotional Reactions

  • Heightened state of fear and vulnerability
  • Anger
  • Being easily startled
  • Feelings of being overwhelmed
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Short term memory loss
  • Irritability
  • Withdrawal from normal activities
  • Feeling detached from others
  • Guilt
  • Intrusive flashbacks or recollections about the event

Things That You Can Do

  • Maintain a normal and predictable routine for yourself and your family.
  • Structure your time and keep busy.
  • Avoid trying to numb the pain by overusing drugs or alcohol.
  • Don’t isolate—talk with others and share your thoughts, feelings and experiences.
  • Keep a journal, write a lot, especially at those times you can’t sleep.
  • Get plenty of rest and eat regular meals, even if you don’t feel like it.
  • Give yourself permission to understand that you are experiencing a “normal reaction” to an “abnormal event.”
  • Use physical exercise as a good outlet for your feelings.

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