The stress of witnessing a traumatic event can take an emotional and physical toll. Whether you were directly involved in the event or exposed to it after the fact, it’s important to know more about traumatic stress and how it can impact you.
You may experience a wide range of responses. This could include intrusive imagery and sounds, feeling distracted, emotional and physical exhaustion or weariness and unexpected emotions such as anger, sadness, fear, anxiety or depression.
People react in different ways to traumatic events. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to respond. Don’t tell yourself (or anyone else) what you should be thinking, feeling or doing.
Avoid obsessively reliving the traumatic event. Repetitious thinking or viewing horrific images over and over can overwhelm your nervous system, making it harder to think clearly.
Ignoring your feelings will slow recovery. It may seem better in the moment to avoid experiencing your emotions, but they exist whether you're paying attention to them or not. Even intense feelings will pass if you simply allow yourself to feel what you feel.
Physical Responses to Traumatic Events
The following are normal responses to witnessing a traumatic event:
- Trembling or shaking
- Pounding heart
- Rapid breathing
- Lump in throat; feeling choked up
- Stomach tightening or churning
- Feeling dizzy or faint
- Cold sweats
- Racing thoughts
If these symptoms don’t ease up and your nervous system remains "stuck" and unable to move on from the event for a prolonged period of time, reach out for additional help by calling BJC EAP at 314.747.7490 or 888.505.6444.
Tips for Caring for Yourself
Here are a few steps you can take to recover your emotional equilibrium and regain control of your life:
- Ask yourself, "How am I doing?" “What do I need?”
- Try to keep your regular sleeping and eating habits.
- Connect with yourself and with people who know and care about you.
- Pay attention to your inner experience and talk about your feelings and responses to the events -- more than the events themselves -- with friends, family and coworkers.
- Focus on sources of pleasure and joy, and allow yourself to escape when necessary.