Traumatic Stress

In the aftermath of the recent natural disasters in the south, we are going to do a series of posts on dealing with crisis and trauma.


What is a Traumatic Stress Reaction?

People who experience or witness horrible events such as school shootings, combat, rape, torture, natural disasters, accidents or other things in which their physical safety and life — or the safety and life of others — was in danger have experienced a traumatic stress. People who are repeatedly exposed to life or death situations, such as EMT and rescue squad workers, police officers, fire fighters and medical personnel on burn wards or trauma units where stress levels and mortality rates are high also witness trauma. Anyone who has experienced these things has experienced a shock and, even if all ultimately escape danger, the people who lived through the event may feel like life “just isn’t the same anymore.” People may experience a variety of reactions, many of which are understandable in the context of experiencing or witnessing traumatic events such as the hurricanes. Experiencing physical or emotional symptoms in response to a traumatic event is normal and is called a traumatic stress reaction.

Physical Symptoms of Traumatic Stress

Anyone affected by the hurricanes or other traumatic stress may experience:

· Fatigue
· Being easily startled
· Headaches
· Sweating
· Gastro-intestinal problems

Emotional Symptoms of Traumatic Stress

Those affected by traumatic stress may feel:

· Fear
· Anger
· Guilt
· Anxiety
· Reduced awareness
· Feeling like you are numb or not part of the world
· Helplessness
· Hopelessness

Reprinted from American Psychological Association. APA is grateful to Paul J. Rosch, M.D.. President, The American Institute of Stress, for his help in developing this fact sheet.