Coping with Traumatic Events

In the course of your work, you may very occasionally find yourself confronted with a situation you find distressing or difficult to cope with.

There may be rare but extreme situations such as accidents, violence or sudden death that can be profoundly disturbing to those directly involved, as well as affecting a wider circle of people who are connected in various ways. Sometimes an incident can be very distressing to an individual, even though it may not appear very serious to others. This can be because it brings up bad past experiences. Sometimes an event becomes "the straw that broke the camel's back" because there are a lot of other pressures in someone's life at that particular time. It is not possible to predict how someone is going to be affected, and some people go through very serious events without lasting harm.

Those who develop severe trauma reactions have often had experiences that have provoked extreme reactions to horror, guilt or helplessness.

In the first few days or weeks following an incident, it is common to go through some of the following reaction:

  • Fear
  • helplessness
  • despair
  • guilt
  • anger
  • shame
  • sadness
  • preoccupation with the event

The following physical reactions can also develop:

  • Tiredness
  • insomnia
  • nightmares
  • dizziness
  • palpitations
  • loss of memory and concentration
  • breathing difficulties
  • muscular tension, leading to pain such as headaches or chest pain
  • digestive problems
  • menstrual disturbance
  • change in sexual interest

Look after yourself:

  • Express your feelings
  • maintain a regular pattern of meals, exercise and relaxation as far as possible
  • drive more carefully and take more care around the home, as accidents are more common after severe stress
  • take time to be with people you care about, and take action if you find you are taking out your distress on those closest to you

Seek help if:

  • You feel your emotions are not falling into place over a period of time
  • you feel tension, confusion, emptiness or exhaustion
  • after a month, you continue to feel numb, or you have to keep active in order not to feel you have no one with whom to share your feelings and you want to do so
  • you continue to have nightmares and poor sleep
  • your relationships seem to be suffering, or sexual problems develop
  • you have accidents
  • your work performance suffers
  • you are feeling exhausted and burnt-out from supporting other people.

Finding help:

Do talk to other people about how you are feeling. It would be helpful for your line manager to be aware, and it is helpful to have the support of friends and family. If you feel you may need specialist help, you can contact your doctor or, within the University, you can contact us