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A traumatic event is an incident that causes physical, emotional, psychological, or mental harm. The person experiencing the distressing event may feel threatened, anxious, or frightened as a result. In some cases, they may not know how to respond, or may be in denial about the effect such an event has had. The person will need support and time to recover from the traumatic event and regain emotional and mental stability.
Examples of traumatic events include:
People respond to traumatic events in different ways. Often, there are no visible signs, but people may have serious emotional reactions. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), shock and denial shortly after the event is a normal reaction. They are often used to protect oneself from the emotional impact of the event. The victim may feel numb or detached, and may not feel the event’s full intensity right away. (APA, 2011)
Once a person has moved past the initial shock, responses to a traumatic event may vary. Common responses include:
A condition known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can sometimes occur after a person experiences a life-threatening event or witnesses a death. PTSD is a type of anxiety disorder that affects stress hormones and changes the body’s response to stress. People with this disorder require strong social support and ongoing therapy. Many veterans returning from war experience PTSD.
PTSD can cause an intense physical and emotional response to any thought or memory of the event. It can last for months or years following trauma. Experts do not know why some people experience PTSD after a traumatic event while others do not. According to the National Library of Medicine (NLM), a history of trauma, along with other physical, genetic, psychological and social factors may play a role in developing PTSD. (NLM, 2012)
There are several ways to help restore your emotional stability after a traumatic event:
You should seek professional help if symptoms persist and interfere with day-to-day activities, school or work performance, or personal relationships.
Signs that a child may need professional help to cope with a traumatic event include:
Psychologists and mental health providers can work with people individually to find ways to cope with stress. They can help both children and their parents understand how to cope with the emotional impact of a traumatic event.
Written by: Jacquelyn Cafasso
Published on Sep 04, 2012
Updated on Feb 15, 2013
Medically reviewed by George Krucik, MD
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