The American Academy of Experts in Traumatic
Things You Can Do While You're Living Through a Traumatic
- Take immediate action to
ensure your physical safety and the safety
of others. If it’s possible, remove
yourself from the event/scene in order to
avoid further traumatic exposure.
- Address your acute medical
needs (e.g., If you’re having difficulty
breathing, experiencing chest pains or palpitations,
seek immediate medical attention).
- Find a safe place that offers
shelter, water, food and sanitation.
- Become aware of how the event
is affecting you (i.e., your feelings, thoughts,
actions—and your physical and spiritual
- Know that your reactions
are normal responses to an abnormal event.
You are not “losing it” or “going
- Speak with your physician
or healthcare provider and make him/her aware
of what has happened to you.
- Be aware of how you’re
holding-up when there are children around
you. Children will take their cues from the
adults around them.
- Try to obtain information.
Knowing the facts about what has happened
will help you to keep functioning.
- If possible, surround yourself
with family and loved ones. Realize that the
event is likely affecting them, too.
- Tell your story. And, allow
yourself to feel. It’s okay—not
to be okay during a traumatic experience.
- You may experience a desire
to withdraw and isolate, causing a strain
on significant others. Resist the urge to
shut down and retreat into your own world.
- Traumatic stress may compromise
your ability to think clearly. If you find
it difficult to concentrate when someone is
speaking to you, focus on the specific words
they are saying—work to actively listen.
Slow down the conversation and try repeating
what you have just heard.
- Don’t make important
decisions when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Allow trusted family members or friends to
assist you with necessary decision-making.
- If stress is causing you
to react physically, use controlled breathing
techniques to stabilize yourself. Take a slow
deep breath by inhaling through your nose,
hold your breath for 5 seconds and then exhale
through your mouth. Upon exhalation, think
the words “relax,” “let
go,” or “I’m handling this.”
Repeat this process several times.
- Realize that repetitive thinking
and sleep difficulties are normal reactions.
Don’t fight the sleep difficulty. Try
the following: Eliminate caffeine for 4 hours
prior to your bedtime, create the best sleep
environment you can, consider taking a few
moments before turning out the lights to write
down your thoughts—thus emptying your
- Give yourself permission
to rest, relax and engage in non-threatening
activity. Read, listen to music, consider
taking a warm bath, etc.
- Physical exercise may help
to dissipate the stress energy that has been
generated by your experience. Take a walk,
ride a bike, or swim.
- Create a journal. Writing
about your experience may help to expose yourself
to painful thoughts and feelings and, ultimately,
enable you to assimilate your experience.
- If you find that your experience
is too powerful, allow yourself the advantage
of professional and/or spiritual guidance,
support and education.
- Try to maintain your schedule.
Traumatic events will disrupt the sense of
normalcy. We are all creatures of habit. By
maintaining our routines, we can maintain
a sense of control at a time when circumstances
may lead us to feel a loss of control.
- Crises present opportunities.
Cultivate a mission and purpose. Seize the
energy from your experience and use it to
propel you to set realistic goals, make decisions
and take action.
To learn more
about Acute Traumatic Stress Management visit
Experienced in the Face of Traumatic Exposure
Responses during a traumatic
event may include shock, in which
the individual may present a highly
anxious, active response or perhaps
a seemingly stunned, emotionally-numb
response. He may describe feeling
as though he is “in a fog.”
He may exhibit denial, in which there
is an inability to acknowledge the
impact of the situation or perhaps,
that the situation has occurred. He
may evidence dissociation, in which
he may seem dazed and apathetic, and
he may express feelings of unreality.
Other frequently observed acute emotional
responses may include panic, fear,
intense feelings of aloneness, hopelessness,
helplessness, emptiness, uncertainty,
horror, terror, anger, hostility,
irritability, depression, grief and
feelings of guilt.
Responses to traumatic exposure
are often reflected in impaired concentration,
confusion, disorientation, difficulty
in making a decision, a short attention
span, suggestibility, vulnerability,
forgetfulness, self-blame, blaming
others, lowered self-efficacy, thoughts
of losing control, hypervigilance,
and perseverative thoughts of the
traumatic event. For example, upon
extrication of a survivor from an
automobile accident, he may cognitively
still “be in” the automobile
“playing the tape” of
the accident over and over in his
Responses in the face of
a traumatic event may include withdrawal,
changes in speech patterns, regressive
behaviors, erratic movements, impulsivity,
a reluctance to abandon property,
seemingly aimless walking, pacing,
an inability to sit still, an exaggerated
startle response and antisocial behaviors.
Responses may include rapid
heart beat, elevated blood pressure,
difficulty breathing*, shock symptoms*,
chest pains*, cardiac palpitations*,
muscle tension and pains, fatigue,
fainting, flushed face, pale appearance,
chills, cold clammy skin, increased
sweating, thirst, dizziness, vertigo,
hyperventilation, headaches, grinding
of teeth, twitches and gastrointestinal