Franklin & Marshall College Franklin & Marshall College

Coping With Traumatic and Unexpected Events

Common Reactions to Traumatic & Unexpected Events

It is very common, in fact quite normal, for people to experience emotional aftershocks when they have experienced a stressful event. Any event (traumatic or unexpected) that causes unusually strong emotional reactions has the potential to interfere with a person's normal functioning. Sometimes the stress reactions occur immediately after the event; sometimes they appear a few hours or days later. Some common reactions include:

Changes in sleeping patterns
Changes in appetite
Muscle tension
Shock or numbness
Anger toward those involved
Fear, feeling unsafe, or vulnerable
Difficulty concentrating
Crying
Irritability
Feelings of guilt
Decreased energy or interest in things
Increased use of alcohol or other substances
Fear of being alone

If you are experiencing any of the above reactions please recognize that these are NORMAL reactions to ABNORMAL events! Try some of the adaptive coping actions listed below to help you get through this difficult situation.

If symptoms persist or you are concerned about your reactions to an event, talking to a counselor can help. Call Counseling Services, 717-291-4083, to schedule an appointment.

Adaptive Coping Actions:

  • Talking to people about your reactions to the event facilitates moving on. Connecting with others, especially those who may have shared the stressful event is very helpful.
  • Structure your time; keep busy; include time for relaxation.
  • Reach out to people. Spend time with others,
  • Help friends as much as possible by sharing feelings and checking in with them to see how they are doing.
  • Get plenty of rest, moderate exercise and eat regular healthy meals.
  • Don't try to fight recurring thoughts, dreams or flashbacks -- they are normal and will decrease over time and become less painful.
  • Recognize that this is a stressful time and use relaxation methods and calming self-talk.
  • Keep a journal. Writing down your feelings, especially at night if you are having difficulty sleeping.
  • Be careful about using alcohol or other drugs to deal with your reaction to the event. Substance use will likely complicate your reaction to an already stressful situation.