Traumatic events can be scary or dangerous. These include natural disasters (such as hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes and floods), acts of violence (such as assault, abuse, terrorist attacks and mass shootings), as well as car crashes and other accidents or violent events. Experiencing one can affect both your body and mind.
It’s common to have an intense reaction after a traumatic event. Responses to trauma can be immediate or delayed, brief or prolonged. Most people have intense responses immediately following, and often for several weeks or months after a traumatic event. You may feel anxious, sad or angry. Trauma can also cause trouble with sleep or concentration. You might find yourself thinking about what happened over and over. It can also cause physical symptoms—like headaches, feeling tired, digestive issues and being easily startled.
For most people, these reactions are normal and they lessen as time passes. But for some people, the effects of trauma last longer. If they interfere with everyday life, it’s important to seek professional help.
Signs that it’s time for help include having frightening flashbacks, feeling out of control, having nightmares or other sleep disturbances, avoiding people or places that bring back difficult memories and trouble thinking clearly. If you’ve become disconnected from family and friends, it’s important to get help so you can recover.
People who already suffer from a mental health condition or who have had traumatic experiences in the past, who face ongoing stress or who lack support from loved ones may be more likely to develop severe symptoms and need additional help. Some people turn to alcohol or other drugs to cope with their symptoms. Although this may seem to relieve symptoms temporarily, it can also lead to new problems and get in the way of recovery.
A mental health professional can talk with you, giving you tools to manage the effects of trauma, and helping you develop healthy coping strategies. Experts recommend connecting with trusted friends and loved ones who are supportive. Try to stick with normal routines for meals, exercise and sleep. Staying active is a particularly good way to cope with stressful feelings.
If you’re unsure where to turn, the National Institute of Mental Health has resources.