Dealing with Trauma

Witnessing or Experiencing a Traumatic Event

Experiencing a traumatic event may cause you to have unusually strong emotional reactions, even though the event may be over.  you may experience strong emotional or physical reactions or emotional or later.  You may experience...
  • Feeling numb and wondering why you are not reacting with strong emotion.
  • Emotional aftershocks (or stress reactions) that appear immediately after the traumatic event, in a few hours, a few days, or sometimes weeks or months later.
  • Signs and symptoms of a stress reaction that may last days, weeks, months or longer depending on the severity of the traumatic event.
Common Signs and Signals of a Stress Reaction:




Fatigue Blaming someone Change in activity
Nausea confusion Change in speech patterns
Muscle tremors Poor attention Withdrawal
Twitches Poor decisions Emotional outbursts
Chest pain * Poor concentration Suspiciousness
Difficulty breathing * Memory problems Change in usual communications
Elevated BP Hyper-vigilance Change in appetite
Rapid heart rate * Anxiety Denial
Guilt Severe panic (rare)
Grief Loss of control
Emotional shock

* Seek immediate medical attention.

Things to try for yourself and others:
  • WITHIN THE FIRST 24 – 48 HOURS periods of strenuous physical exercise, alternated with relaxation, will alleviate some of the physical reactions.
  • YOU’RE NORMAL and having normal reactions – don’t label yourself crazy.
  • Talk to people – talk is the most healing medicine.
  • Be aware of numbing the pain with overuse of drugs or alcohol.
  • Reach out and spend time with others – people do care.
  • Structure your time – keep busy.
  • Maintain as normal a schedule as possible.
  •  It’s OK/normal to feel rotten.
  • Do things that feel good to you.
  • Realize those around you are under stress.
  • Do make as many daily decisions as possible, which will give you a feeling of control over your life.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Reoccurring thoughts, dreams or flashbacks are normal – don’t try to fight them – they’ll decrease over time and become less painful.
  • Eat well-balanced and regular meals (even if you don’t feel like it).
To help others experiencing a reaction:
  • Listen carefully.
  • Spend time with the traumatized person.
  • Offer your assistance and a listening ear if they have not asked for help.
  • Reassure them that they are safe.
  • Help them with everyday tasks.
  • 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” – these statements do not console traumatized people. Instead, tell them that you are sorry such an event has occurred and you want to understand and assist them.
Individuals Who Are Impacted Don’t Need:
  • Helpers should avoid making judgmental statements relative to the individual’s actions or lack of them.  This may lead to inappropriate feelings of guilt.
  • The helper should understand that feelings of guilt are normal and usually temporary.  These feelings arise because of a need for the person to be able to explain or rationalize what happened.
  • Don’t ask blaming questions and don’t answer questions you don’t know.
  • Don’t insist on talking – silence is OK.
  • Don’t impose your religious or spiritual beliefs or personal philosophy.  Don’t say things like, “It’s God’s Will” or “It was a blessing that…”.
  • Helpers should avoid using platitudes or clichés…”I know just how you feel…”, “You’ll get over this.”
Counseling Can Be Helpful

With understanding and the support of loved ones the stress reactions usually pass more quickly. Occasionally, the traumatic event is so painful that professional assistance from a counselor may be necessary. This does not imply craziness or weakness. It simply indicates that the particular event was just too powerful for the person to manage by himself or herself.

Take advantage of counseling services available to you. Counseling can help you make sense of your understand how the trauma has affected you and to understand your feelings and reactions to it.

Personal counseling services are free and completely confidential. You can call for an appointment at 412-396-6204, or come by our office at 636 Fisher Hall.

For more information and support for those dealing with trauma:

Managing Traumatic Stress

Center for Victims of Violent Crime

Center for Victims of Violent Crime HelpLine   412.392.8582
     (HelpLine answers 24 hours.)

Information in this site is not intended to replace a one-on-one consultation with a licensed mental health worker.  If you are a student having problems, we urge you to contact us at 412.396.6204 to schedule an appointment.