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A traumatic event is an incident that causes physical, emotional, spiritual, or psychological 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. Shock and denial shortly after the event is a normal reaction. Shock and denial are often used to protect oneself from the emotional impact of the event. You may feel numb or detached. You may not feel the event’s full intensity right away.
Once you have 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 you experience a life-threatening event or witness 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 suffer from 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. A history of trauma, along with other physical, genetic, psychological, and social factors may play a role in developing PTSD.
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 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
Medically reviewed on: Jan 28, 2016: Steve Kim, MD
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