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Eastern Kentucky University

Counseling Center

Counseling Center 5 Coping With A Shocking or Traumatic Event

Coping With A Shocking or Traumatic Event

In the course of a lifetime, most of us will experience, directly or indirectly, several personally shocking or traumatic incidents. Witnessing, experiencing, or being close to a shocking event is one such example. There are normal reactions to these intense and/or abnormal events. Although some of these reactions can be painful, they are part of the natural healing process. If you have experienced an intense personal situation or a shocking/traumatic event recently, some possible responses might be:

Typical Responses

  • Shock and disbelief-Immediately after learning about a traumatic event many people feel numb or feel like such an event can’t be real.
  • Speculation about what happened and information seeking – Listening to or watching news, checking the internet for updates, talking to others about what you know or have heard.
  • Wanting to turn off the TV, the computer, and the radio to “make it all go away” for a while.
  • Feelings of sadness or anger about the tragedy and discussing these feelings with others.
  • Wanting to check in with loved ones, even if they are not close to the disaster or in immediate danger. It is normal to want to touch base with someone you care about.
  • If you are in a role where you need to attend to or provide for others, you may not be aware of your own feelings until the immediate crisis is over.

What You Can Do To Take Care Of Yourself: Promoting a Healthy Response

In the hours and days following such tragedies, the shock begins to wear off, and it is possible that other feelings may emerge. It is also possible that no other feelings will emerge. Everyone’s reaction is individual and perfectly OK. In the cases when other feelings emerge, these feelings might include anger, sadness, fear, panic, or depression. It is important to share these feelings with people whom you trust.

  • Talk with people about what you are experiencing-parents, friends, teachers, residence hall staff members (RA or Residence Hall Coordinator), pastor, counselor, someone you feel comfortable sharing with.
  • Breathe – slow and deep abdominal breathing.
  • Maintain regular exercise.
  • Eat healthy. Don’t skip meals. Don’t eat excessively.
  • Keep a regular sleep schedule as much as possible.
  • Schedule your time and meet as many of your usual commitments and activities as possible.
  • Take time to be alone in order to listen to yourself. Give yourself permission to have your feelings, whatever they are. Also, give yourself permission NOT to have intense feelings about the situation.
  • Don’t withdraw for an extended period of time.
  • Avoid overextending yourself in your work or in new commitments.
  • Remind yourself that you’re normal and are having normal reactions-your reactions may be different from your friends and that’s OK-reactions are very individualistic.
  • Engaging in excessive substance use (alcohol or other drugs) to numb or escape is not advisable. It often only delays or intensifies emotional responses.
  • Don’t label your reactions or the reactions of others as weak, strange, wrong, or crazy.
  • Transfer the energy of anger into productive activities within your community.
  • Ask others directly for what you need and want.
  • Help others.
  • Pray, meditate, spend time in nature, or do whatever suits your belief system and allows you to connect with something larger than yourself.

Action You Can Take With Others

With Individuals

  • Listen
  • Show that you hear their feelings and that you care through your choice of words and behaviors.
  • Just be with them.
  • If appropriate, respect their desire to be alone and to grieve in their own way.
  • Assist people with solving immediate concerns or problems.
  • Help connect people with available resources.

Within Your Community (When the Situation Calls for It):

  • Give blood (for local donations contact the Kentucky Blood Center).
  • Donate to your local Red Cross chapter.
  • Volunteer (for more information at EKU, visit the Community Service website).
  • Find ways to contribute your unique talents and areas of expertise to your community.
  • Provide opportunities in classrooms or in work settings for people to talk with each other about their reactions to the recent events. People need a sense of community, safety, and places to talk.
  • Initiate or contribute to communications with others that help to create a sense of understanding of how these events can happen and what we can learn from them.

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Sometimes It Might Be Good To Consider Professional Counseling If:

  • You are experiencing memories of previous losses, traumas, or crisis.
  • You are experiencing heightened feelings of anxiety, fear for your own safety, or rage.
  • You are crying more than usual in response to sadness and fear.
  • You are experiencing difficulty sleeping or nightmares.
  • You become angry or upset more easily than typical.
  • You notice a tendency to isolate yourself or withdraw.

Changes in behavior are usually significant when they interfere with usual activities, change behavior in significant ways, or persist for more than two weeks. If you are having these responses, ask for help. Contact the EKU Counseling Center at 859-622-1303 and ask to speak to a counselor. Or, call the community mental health 24hr helpline at New Vista Mental Health Services at 1-800-928-8000.

Other Resources

Counseling Center


521 Lancaster Avenue
CPO 52, Whitlock Building Room #571
Richmond, KY 40475-3152
Phone: 859-622-1303

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