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Coping After Experiencing a Crisis or Trauma

Last updated: August 7, 2021

© International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, Inc. 2001 All Rights Reserved.

You may have experienced a traumatic event or a critical incident (any event that causes unusually strong emotional reactions that have the potential to interfere with the ability to function normally). Even though the event may be over, you may now be experiencing or may experience later, some strong emotional or physical reactions. It is very common, in fact quite normal, for people to experience emotional aftershocks when they have passed through a horrible event. Sometimes the emotional aftershocks (or stress reactions) appear immediately after the traumatic event. Sometimes they may appear a few hours or a few days later. In some cases, weeks or months may pass before the stress reactions appear. The signs and symptoms of a stress reaction may last a few days, a few weeks, a few months, or longer, depending on the severity of the traumatic event. The understanding and the support of loved ones usually cause the stress reactions to pass more quickly. Occasionally, the traumatic event is so painful that professional assistance may be necessary. This does not imply craziness or weakness. It simply indicates that the particular event was just too powerful for the person to manage by oneself.

Here are some common signs and symptoms of a stress reaction:


Chills, thirst, fatigue, nausea, fainting, twitches, vomiting, dizziness, weakness, chest pain, headaches, elevated blood pressure, rapid heart rate, muscle tremors, shock symptoms, grinding of teeth, visual difficulties, profuse sweating and difficulty breathing.


Confusion, nightmares, uncertainty, hypervigilance, suspiciousness, intrusive images, blaming someone, poor problem solving, poor abstract thinking, poor attention/decisions, poor concentration/memory, disorientation of time, place or person, difficulty identifying objects or people, heightened or lowered alertness and increased or decreased awareness of surroundings.


Fear, guilt, grief, panic, denial, anxiety, agitation, irritability, depression, intense anger, apprehension, emotional shock, emotional outbursts, feeling overwhelmed, loss of emotional control and inappropriate emotional response.


Withdrawal, antisocial acts, inability to rest, intensified pacing, erratic movements, change in social activity, change in speech patterns, loss or increase of appetite, hyper-alert to environment, increased alcohol consumption and change in usual communications.

Any of these symptoms may indicate the need for medical evaluation.

When in doubt, contact a physician.

Things to Try:

  • WITHIN THE FIRST 24 TO 48 HOURS, periods of appropriate physical exercise, alternated with relaxation will alleviate some of the physical reactions.
  • Structure your time; keep busy.
  • Don’t label yourself crazy. You are normal and having normal reactions.
  • Talk to people. Talking is the most healing medicine.
  • Be aware of numbing the pain with overuse of drugs or alcohol. You don’t need to complicate the situation with a substance abuse problem.
  • Reach out. People do care.
  • Maintain as normal a schedule as possible.
  • Spend time with others.
  • Help your co-workers as much as possible by sharing feelings and checking out how they are doing.
  • Give yourself permission to feel rotten and share your feelings with others.
  • Keep a journal. Write your way through those sleepless hours.
  • Do things that feel good to you.
  • Realize those around you are under stress.
  • Don’t make any big life changes.
  • Do make as many daily decisions as possible that will give you a feeling of control over your life, e.g., if someone asks you what you want to eat, give an answer even if you are not sure.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Don’t try to fight reoccurring thoughts, dreams or flashbacks. They are normal. They will decrease over time and become less painful.
  • Eat well-balanced and regular meals, even if you don’t feel like it.

For Family Members and Friends

  • Listen carefully.
  • Spend time with the traumatized person.
  • Offer your assistance and a listening ear if they have not asked for help.
  • Reassure them that they are safe.
  • Help them with everyday tasks like cleaning, cooking, caring for the family and minding children.
  • Give them some private time.
  • Don’t take their anger or other feelings personally.
  • Don’t tell them that they are “lucky it wasn’t worse”; a traumatized person is not consoled by those statements. Instead, tell them that you are sorry such an event has occurred and you want to understand and assist them.

Call Anne Arundel County Crisis Response for resources. 410-768-5522

Anne Arundel County Mental Health Agency, Inc. Anne Arundel County Mental Health Agency, Inc.
www.aamentalhealth.orgSponsor of Anne Arundel County’s information website: www.networkofcare.org

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