Trauma is the response to a deeply distressing or disturbing event that overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope, causes feelings of helplessness, and diminishes one’s sense of self and one’s ability to feel a full range of emotions and experiences. Over the course of a lifetime many people will experience or witness a traumatic event. Traumas can consist of a single event (accident, assault or natural disaster) or can be ongoing (physical, sexual or emotional abuse). Common reactions to trauma include:

  • Intense emotion and reactivity: Anxiety, pain, fear, shame, grief, horror, anger and shock.
  • Numbness: Detachment from people and one’s own feelings as a self-protective measure.
  • Cognitive Impairments: Difficulty concentrating, impaired memory, decreased interest in everyday activities and hopelessness.
  • Flashbacks: Re-experiencing the traumatic event over and over. Not feeling in control of intrusive thoughts or memories.
  • Nightmares: Re-experiencing traumatic events through dreams. Can severely impact quality of sleep and mood.
  • Avoidance: Avoiding people, places and reminders of anything associated with the traumatic event.
  • Physical symptoms: Headaches, fatigue, panic symptoms (palpitations, sweating, shortness of breath?), appetite changes, increased startle response and potential for increased substance abuse.
  • What you are feeling is normal. Allow yourself time to adjust to new feelings.
  • Reach out to friends and family who can be supportive. Spend time with others despite the instinct to withdraw.
  • Talk. Talking can help reduce some of the anxious feelings and intense emotions.
  • Maintain structure in your life. Keeping schedules, staying active, planning, and lists can help refocus your energy.
  • Get involved. Join groups; look for ways to help others.
  • Ask for help when your reactions or feelings continue to interfere with your daily functioning or social life.