Immediate Steps After a Traumatic Life Event

By Pamela Andrews
When something traumatic happens to you, it’s hard to figure out where to go next. Some people try to go back to their regular scheduled routine, some people find themselves confused about what to do next, while others get stuck in the moment of the traumatic event. A traumatic event can range from being attacked by an animal, to a car crash, to a natural disaster, to abuse. Trauma can affect you mentally, physically, or emotionally which is why after a traumatic event you want to be strategic in what you do next.

Responses After a Traumatic Event

After a traumatic event, you want to first check for warning signs. Since everyone is different, no one will respond to a traumatic event the same. One of the warning signs to look for is re-experiencing. Re-experiencing consists of flashbacks to the event, bad memories, and nightmares of the event. For example, if you were affected by a hurricane, you may find yourself having nightmares about the night that hurricane hit, or you may have uncontrollable flashbacks about the hurricane. Another sign is avoidance, which is when you are trying to avoid dealing with what happened emotionally. With avoidance, the hurricane survivor may avoid the news or increase substances to avoid the thought of the event. A survivor of sexual assault may avoid places that remind him or her of the event.

The third warning sign is hyperarousal. Hyperarousal can look like being on constant edge due to the traumatic event. A person who lives in a community where there is a lot of community violence may always think they hear gunshots which leaves them on edge all of the time. The last warning sign would be negative thoughts and feelings after the traumatic event. Negative thoughts and feelings consist of blocking out what happened, not being able to recall the traumatic event, blaming oneself for the traumatic event, and having negative thoughts of shame and guilt.

A survivor of assault may not remember all of the details of the event, they may just remember the smell of the person that assaulted them but not the full details of what happened. They may blame themselves for the assault and think things like “I’m stupid” or “This deserved to happen to me”. These warning signs can happen to anyone at any time. It does not have to be immediately after an event, it can be years later. Everyone, adults and children, respond to a traumatic event differently. The best thing you can do if you are starting to experience any of these warning signs is finding ways to cope and to address it.

Steps for Addressing Responses to a Traumatic Event
After the traumatic event happens and you start to notice any of the warning signs, you want to take the next steps to address what you are experiencing. Here are a couple of things you can do:
*Recognize that this can happen to anyone
*Seek a therapist
*Confide in a friend you can trust
*Join a support group
*Avoid extreme coping such as increased substances
No matter how you decide to cope after a traumatic event, know that you are not alone, there is support that you can receive. A traumatic event can change your life and how you see the world. Reach out, connect with others, and get the support you need. If you would like to find out more about how therapy can help with addressing responses to a traumatic event, please contact our office at 212-433-2384 or at