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Experiencing a really distressing or traumatic event can bring up a lot of emotions, such as feeling scared or helpless. Learn more about what a traumatic experience is, what are some common responses to trauma, and get some tips on how to cope.

This can help if:

  • you’ve experienced a traumatic event
  • you’re unsure of how to cope afterwards
  • you’re wondering if your response is ‘normal’ or if you need additional support.
Girl with her head in her hands on the street

What is trauma?

Trauma is usually a deeply disturbing experience where a person feels threatened with serious injury, violence or death. It can arise from many events, including an accident, workplace injury, robbery or harassment. Trauma can also occur from witnessing someone else being threatened or suffering an injury, or from hearing that a traumatic event has happened to a family member or friend. Basically, trauma can be any event that you find particularly upsetting.

What are common responses to trauma?

Reaction to a traumatic event varies from person to person, but it’s common to feel:

  • fearful
  • shocked
  • numb
  • sad
  • guilty
  • angry
  • ashamed
  • stressed
  • anxious
  • helpless.

Over time, most people are able to work through these feelings. Although they might feel distressed when they think about what happened, eventually they are able to process their feelings and continue with their everyday life. Others, however, find coping with trauma too much for them, and the stress and anxiety they feel impacts their wellbeing.

What can I do to cope after experiencing trauma?

If you’ve been through a traumatic event, it’s important that you look after yourself. Shutting down your feelings and trying not to think about the event can actually make things worse. Self-care will usually involve working through your feelings by:

  • talking to someone you trust about the event and how you’re feeling
  • writing down your feelings in a journal as a way of expressing what you’re going through
  • talking to a mental health professional, who can offer you strategies and skills to help you process the traumatic experience.

In addition to processing your feelings, having a daily routine is usually helpful. You might feel tempted to stay in bed and not face the world, but in the long run, you’ll just prolong your pain and stress. Keep up with activities you enjoy and try to include some exercise.

How do I know if I need professional help?

Over time, most people recover from a traumatic event and find that the distressing thoughts and feelings occur less frequently. However, if your distress is extreme or continues over a period of time, you might be suffering from acute stress disorder or posttraumatic stress disorder. In these cases, you should seek professional help.

What can I do now?