Coping with Traumatic Events

Traumatic events can make us feel afraid, vulnerable and helpless. Disease outbreaks that require you to monitor your health can be especially stressful. Family and friends can help us cope, but you may need additional support. You can find information below about common reactions to traumatic events and tips on how to help you cope.

What to Expect

Stress reactions are natural, especially shortly after experiencing a traumatic event. Stress may briefly affect how you feel, think and act, but this effect should lessen and disappear with time. When the reactions linger or interfere with functioning, you may need professional support.

Common Stress Reactions

People react to stress differently. There is no right or wrong way to be affected by a stressful event.

Physical: Feeling exhausted, having trouble sleeping or eating, or experiencing headaches, rapid heartbeat, dizziness and chills and sweating. Stress can also worsen existing medical conditions.

Emotional/Mental: Strong emotions including shock, disbelief, loneliness, sadness, numbness, fear, anxiety, agitation, irritability and anger. You may also have difficulties concentrating, remembering and making decisions.

Behavioral: Behaving in uncharacteristic ways, such as being restless and argumentative, hyperactive or withdrawn, having emotional outbursts, conflicts at home and work, and changes in eating and sleeping patterns.

Take Care of Yourself

There are simple things you can do to cope better.

Stay informed. Use credible sources of information to stay up to date on what is happening and potential ongoing risks. Avoid sharing unconfirmed news or acting on rumors, as this adds to misinformation, fear and panic.

Accept your feelings. Recover at your own pace and in your own way.

Take care of yourself. Try to stick to routines. Take your time, and make sure to eat well, exercise and get enough rest. Avoid smoking or using alcohol and drugs to cope.

Stay Connected. Stay connected with family and friends. Talk with someone you trust and who can offer support.

Take a break. Take some time for you. Do something that will give you fulfillment.

Limit your exposure. If the event is in the news, set a time to turn off the television and computer, and put down newspapers. Too much time on electronic devices (such as a phone or computer) or excessively watching or listening to news reports can increase your anxiety and fear. Seek updates and guidance no more than three times per day.

Stick to routines. Keeping routines gives us sense of control and can reduce anxiety. Try as much as possible to keep daily routines or create new ones, if needed, to help you cope with the changes. Take time to think about other important parts of your life, and remind yourself of what you enjoy and feel good about.

Ask for help. Make sure you have what you need to feel safe and comfortable. If you feel stuck or overwhelmed, ask for help. If you are unable to work, contact your employer and discuss any options for leave.

When to Seek Help

You cannot function: You feel unable to function or perform basic daily activities.

Your stress reactions linger: If your stress reactions last longer than a month, worsen or interfere with your daily functioning, you may have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a serious condition.

You become depressed: Depression is not the same as sadness. Depression is an illness. You may have depression if you:

  • Feel persistently sad and tired
  • Feel hopeless or worthless
  • Lose interest in things you used to enjoy
  • Have changes in sleep and appetite
  • Have trouble concentrating, remembering or making decisions
  • Have thoughts of death or suicide
You are unable to cope: You are coping in ways that cause problems instead of helping you.
  • Taking drugs or smoking
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Over or under eating
  • Engaging in other self–destructive behavior

Where to Find Help

If symptoms of stress persist or become overwhelming, you can connect with trained counselors at 988, a free and confidential mental health support service that can help New Yorkers cope.

988 staff are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and can provide brief counseling and referrals to care in over 200 languages. For support, call or text 988 or chat online.

Additional Resources

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