After the Incident

After the Incident

In the first 30-60 days following the incident, there are many expected responses that are normal reactions to an abnormal event. These responses may occur in the physical, mental, emotional, behavioral, and spiritual realms. Items below marked ** indicate medical evaluation is indicated:

Body: fatigue, nausea, dizziness, aches, twitches, sweating, chills, visual difficulties, fainting, rapid heart rate, dry mouth/thirst, chest pain and breathing problems**, shock symptoms (cold/clammy hands and feet, blue-tinged skin tone, fast rate of breathing, decrease in blood pressure)**;

Thinking: disorientation (confusion about time, date, place), seeing event over and over, disrupted sleep, illogical thinking, poor problem-solving, poor attention and memory, increased alertness of surroundings, easily startled, dazed appearance;

Feeling: numb, fearful, apprehensive, guilty, ashamed, anxious, sad, helpless, angry, overwhelmed;

Behavior: change in usual behavior, change in communication/speech, unusually quiet or talkative, emotional outbursts, increased/decreased appetite, pacing/restless, non-specific body complaints, increased self-medicating (drugs/alcohol), decreased regard for personal safety, change in sexual functioning; and

Spiritual: anger at “higher power,” loss of faith, confusion about life’s meaning and purpose, familiar faith practices and rituals seem empty, isolation from faith community, bargaining with “higher power,” questioning good vs. evil, questioning one’s own value, and searching for answers.

In the longer-term, some of these may intermittently arise but reduce in their frequency and intensity. To the degree any of these symptoms interfere with your daily life, relationships, or work, seeking professional mental health assessment is strongly advised.

How to Help Yourself

  • Contact trusted friends and family and talk about what has happened.
  • Within first 24-48 hours of event, alternate periods of physical exercise and relaxation to alleviate physical reaction.
  • Crying is good.
  • Structure time and try to keep busy.
  • Maintain as normal a schedule as possible.
  • Remember that you are not weak or crazy — you are traumatized.
  • Talk to people when you don’t want to. They really do care. Talk is healing.
  • Express feelings as they arise to people around you who really want to listen.
  • Give yourself permission to feel rotten and share your feelings with others.
  • Be aware not to misdirect anger and irritation toward others.
  • Don’t numb out with drugs or alcohol. They actually compound and complicate stress.
  • Do something for someone else and reverse the current.
  • Keep a journal; write your way through sleepless hours.
  • Try to do something that feels good to you — especially when you don’t want to.
  • Recognize that people around you are probably under stress as well.
  • Make daily decisions that give you a feeling of control over your life.
  • No big decisions, life changes, or changes in daily routine for a while.
  • Get plenty of rest and sleep.
  • Recognize that reoccurring thoughts, dreams, or flashbacks are normal. Don’t fight them — they’ll decrease and become less painful over time.
  • Hydrate: drink lots of water.
  • Push yourself to eat well-balanced and regular meals even when you don’t feel like it.
  • Moderate caffeine and sugar intake.
  • Touching and being touched can be helpful.
  • If symptoms of stress do not lessen, seek professional assistance.

How Family Members and Friends Can Help

  • Listen without trying to fix.
  • Spend time with the traumatized person.
  • Offer assistance and a listening ear if he/she has not asked for help.
  • Provide reassurance that he/she is safe.
  • Express your love to them.
  • Help them with everyday household and childcare tasks.
  • Give them some private time.
  • Don’t take their anger or other feelings personally.
  • Don’t tell them they’re “lucky it wasn’t worse.” They find no consolation in this.
  • Tell them that you are sorry such an event has occurred and that you want to understand and assist.
  • Discussing everyday life is OK. Don’t feel that the traumatic event is all you can talk about.

It won't always feel this way.

Where can I find some ease within or around this experience — just as it is?