When people are exposed to highly intense and distressing situations, a variety of reactions may occur. You may experience traumatic feelings regardless of where you were when the event occurred. In addition, your reactions may be impacted by past experiences with trauma.
Common reactions after first hearing the news include:
- A sense of paralysis
- A “fight or flight” response (rapid heart rate, changes in breathing patterns, sweating)
- Changes in thinking or behavior
The impact of a traumatic event may linger long after the immediate situation has passed. You may experience reactions for days or even months afterward. Common responses include:
- Physical stress. You may feel overstimulated or anxious. Difficulty sleeping, change of appetite, trembling or shaking, or feeling short of breath may occur. Prolonged bouts of physical stress may make you more susceptible to illness.
- Detachment. Your life may feel like a movie you are watching rather than something you are actually experiencing.
- Exaggerated startle response. Sounds, sights, or smells may remind you of the event and “trigger” a reaction.
- Intrusive thoughts. You may have unwelcome thoughts or dreams about this situation or about distressing events in your past.
- Hypervigilance. You may be more aware of your surroundings, especially in locations that remind you of the event. You may also feel more suspicious toward others.
- Isolation. You may feel the need to withdraw from social situations or to limit your exposure to the news or other people’s reactions to the event.
- Powerlessness. You may feel threatened by the realization that you have no control over the actions of others or world events.
- Anger. You may be short-tempered or become angry for what seems like no reason.
- It’s important to understand that there is no one right way to feel or react. Working through trauma may take time and could manifest in many different ways.
When to ask for help:
- If your life, work, or relationships are being disrupted
- If feelings seem overwhelming and you can’t find a way to express them
- If you aren’t sure if the way you are reacting is “normal”
- If you are using alcohol or other drugs to cope