Coping with Traumatic Events

Traumatic events can make us feel afraid, vulnerable and helpless. While family and friends can help us cope, sometimes additional support is needed.

What to Expect

Stress reactions, especially shortly after experiencing a traumatic event are natural. Stress may briefly affect how you feel, think and act, but this effect should lessen and disappear with time. When the reactions linger or interfere with functioning, you may need professional support.

Common Stress Reactions

People react to stress differently. There is no right or wrong way.

Physical: Feeling exhausted, having trouble with sleeping, eating, headaches, rapid heartbeat, dizziness and chills and sweating. Stress can also worsen existing medical conditions.

Emotional: Strong emotions including shock, disbelief, loneliness, sorrow, numbness, fear and anger.

Behavioral: Not acting “like you”: being restless and argumentative, hyperactive or withdrawn, having emotional outbursts, conflicts at home and work.

Thoughts: Difficulties concentrating, remembering and making decisions.

Spirituality: Questioning basic values; withdrawal from, or sudden turn towards, spiritual support.

Taking Care of Yourself

There are simple things you can do that can help you cope.

Accept your feelings. Recover at your own pace and in your own way.

Take care of yourself. Try to stick to routines, eat well, exercise and get enough rest. Avoid smoking, alcohol and drugs to cope.

Reach out. Don’t be afraid to talk and express your feelings. You may find this comforting.

Take a break. Do something that will lift your spirits.

Limit your exposure. If the event is in the news, turn off the television and computer, and put down the papers.

Be part of the community. It can offer you a network of support.

Strive for balance. Remind yourself of the good things in life.

Ask for help if you feel stuck or overwhelmed.

When to Seek Help

You cannot function: You feel unable to function or perform basic daily activities.
 
Your stress reactions linger: If your stress reactions last longer than a month, worsen or interfere with your daily functioning, you may have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a serious condition.

You become depressed: Depression is not the same as sadness. Depression is an illness. You may have depression if you:
  • Feel persistently sad and tired
  • Feel hopeless or worthless
  • Lose interest in things you used to enjoy
  • Have changes in sleep and appetite
  • Have trouble concentrating, remembering or making decisions
  • Have thoughts of death or suicide
You are unable to cope: You are coping in ways that cause problems instead of helping you.
  • Taking drugs or smoking
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Over or under eating
  • Engaging in other self–destructive behavior

Where to Find Help

Feeling overwhelmed? Concerned about someone else? Need to talk or get resources? Call NYC Well at (888) NYC-WELL (888-692-9355). The hotline is free, confidential, and available 24/7. Interpreters are available for 190+ languages.

If your symptoms of stress become so severe that you need help urgently, or if you are thinking about harming yourself or someone else, call 911.

More Coping Resources