I’ve experienced a traumatic event – What can I do?

The experience of traumatic stress after exposure to a traumatic event is a normal reaction to an abnormal event. People react to traumatic events in different ways with no one way being right or wrong.

While exposure to a single or even multiple events might affect one person to a minimal degree, others can be affected to a significant degree, or not at all. It is therefore unproductive to spend time comparing your experience to anybody else’s – How you feel is how you feel. What is important is that you acknowledge, and not ignore, how you are feeling1.

Exposure to a traumatic event might lead you to feel distressed but it does not mean that these feelings will be permanent. For many people, things return to normal in the days and weeks following the traumatic event2. Below are strategies you can use to help yourself recover after exposure to a traumatic event:

  • Acknowledge and accept that you have been through something extremely stressful2.
  • Give yourself permission to feel whatever it is that you are feeling and to express your feelings to those you know and trust. If you don’t feel comfortable talking about your feelings, try writing them down2.
  • It is normal to feel as though you want to be alone after a traumatic experience, but it is important that you don’t completely isolate yourself. Try to spend time with people you care about, but don’t feel as though you have to talk about how you are feeling if you don’t want to2.
  • Symptoms such as difficulty sleeping, nightmares, sadness, and intrusive thoughts about the traumatic event are normal and will gradually decrease over time. Even if you are having difficulty sleeping, try to get as much rest as you can2.
  • Try to get back to your normal routine as soon as possible but don’t go over board. Keeping yourself busy can be a way of avoiding painful memories and feelings, however if you don’t address these feelings, they are likely to bubble under the surface and pop-up when you least expect it. Instead, slow down and complete one task at a time. Remind yourself of your strengths and celebrate the little wins along the way2.
  • Ensure you give yourself permission to get plenty of rest, eat healthy, and engage in regular moderate intensity exercise23. Exercise can be beneficial in combatting stress, depression, anxiety, and PTSD3.
  • Limit your intake of caffeine. Caffeine is found in tea, coffee, soft drink, and chocolate. It is also wise to limit cigarette smoking. Following a traumatic event, your body is wound up enough and doesn’t need further stimulation. It is also wise to either abstain or limit your alcohol and other drug consumption. Alcohol and other drug abuse have the potential to lead to longer-term problems down the track2.
  • Try to schedule your days to ensure you get the exercise and down time you need. Also, try to ensure you plan something enjoyable each day2.
  • Avoid making big decisions at this time. Rather, make as many small daily decisions as you can, such as what to eat or where you’d like to go. The experience of traumatic stress can lead to feeling out of control and therefore making small decisions and following through with them can help to feel more in control of your life2.
  • If you feel as though you would like to keep abreast of a traumatic event you have been associated with, do so, but try to limit the amount of exposure you have to it. Repeated exposure to traumatic events, or reminders of traumatic events, can lead to an exacerbation of your symptoms2.

If Your Symptoms are Severe or Persist Longer than Two Weeks:

If your symptoms persist and are not improving, or the way you are feeling is beginning to interfere with work or relationships, it is time to ask for help. Your GP is a good place to start and they can refer you to professionals who can help. Trauma can be treated in a variety of ways with your GP likely to refer you to a psychologist and/ or psychiatrist. A psychologist will provide counselling treatment, whilst a psychiatrist is specialised in providing and managing appropriate medication if it is needed. You can also help yourself by:

  • Ensuring you get enough rest and sleep, maintain a healthy diet, and exercise regularly23.
  • Limiting or avoiding alcohol and other drug intake. Relying on alcohol or other drugs will likely lead to long-term problems124.
  • Continuing to talk to friends and family about how you’re feeling as well as getting out and about with them4.

Using mindfulness strategies. Mindfulness is an ancient Buddhist art of being present in the here-and-now moment and has two key aspects:

  1. Pay attention to, and be aware of, the present moment, whether that be eating, breathing, or cleaning your teeth.
  2. Accept your thoughts and feelings as they are without judgement towards them – simply experience them as they are4.


  • Practice relaxation strategies such as: Muscle relaxation and breathing exercises, meditation, swimming, stretching, yoga, listening to relaxing music, and getting out amongst nature. Relaxation strategies can be difficult at first but try to stick with them as they can be very beneficial3.

1 HelpGuide.org. (2016, September 18). How to help someone with PTSD. Retrieved from http://www.helpguide.org/articles/ptsd-trauma/ptsd-in-the-family.htm

2 Phoenix Australia. (2016, September 18). Recovery: Helping Others. Retrieved from http://phoenixaustralia.org/recovery/helping-others/

3 Cherry, M. (2016). The effects of aerobic exercise on PTSD symptomology of combat veterans. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering, 76(9-B(E)), N.P.

4 U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2016, September 18). Helping a family member who has PTSD. Retrieved from http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/family/helping-family-member.asp


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