OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

After a Disaster or Other Traumatic Event

Shock and denial are typical responses to trauma, especially shortly after the event. Both shock and denial are normal protective reactions. Shock is a sudden and often intense disturbance of your emotional state that may leave you feeling stunned or dazed. Denial involves your not acknowledging that something very stressful has happened, or not experiencing fully the intensity of the event. You may temporarily feel numb or disconnected from life. As the initial shock subsides, reactions vary from one person to another. The following, however, are normal responses to a traumatic event:

  • Feelings become intense and sometimes are unpredictable. You may become more irritable than usual, and your mood may change back and forth dramatically. You might be especially anxious or nervous, or even become depressed for a short period of time.
  • Thoughts and behavior patterns are affected by the trauma. You might have repeated and vivid memories of the event. These flashbacks may occur for no apparent reason and may lead to physical reactions such as rapid heartbeat or sweating. You may find it difficult to concentrate or make decisions, or become more easily confused. Sleep and eating patterns also may be disrupted.
  • Recurring emotional reactions are common. Anniversaries of the event, such as at one month or one year, as well as reminders such as the sounds of sirens, can trigger upsetting memories of the traumatic experience. These 'triggers' may be accompanied by fears that the stressful event will be repeated.
  • Interpersonal relationships often become strained. Greater conflict, such as more frequent arguments with friends and family members, is common. On the other hand, you might become withdrawn and isolated and avoid your usual activities.
  • Physical symptoms may accompany the extreme stress. For example, headaches, nausea and chest pain may result. Pre-existing medical conditions may worsen due to the stress. Seek medical attention if you experience serious symptoms.

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