HMatW eNewsletter


June/July 2013

21 Things You Can Do While Living Through a Traumatic Experience

With recent tornadoes that have devastated the Midwest and now the start of hurricane season on the East Coast, many people across the country are facing traumatic experiences. Whether it’s a frightening storm or something even worse, these 21 tips provided by Mental Health America, a proud member of Community Health Charities, can help you cope.

If you live in an area that is prone to natural disasters, it’s important to do everything you can to be prepared. We also invite you to visit the Health Matters at Work Emergency Preparedness page, which provides links to information about emergency and disaster preparedness from our member charities.

  1. Take immediate action to ensure your physical safety and the safety of others. If possible, remove yourself from the event/scene in order to avoid further traumatic exposure.
  2. Address your acute medical needs (e.g., if you’re having difficulty breathing or experiencing chest pains, seek immediate medical attention).
  3. Find a safe place that offers shelter, water, food and sanitation.
  4. Become aware of how the event is affecting you (i.e., your feelings, thoughts and actions, as well as your reactions to them)
  5. Know that your reactions are normal responses to an abnormal event. You are not “losing it” or “going crazy.”
  6. Speak with your physician or healthcare provider and make him/her aware of what has happened to you.
  7. Be aware of how you’re holding up when there are children around you. Children will take their cues from the adults around them.
  8. Try to obtain information. Knowing the facts about what has happened will help you keep functioning.
  9. If possible, surround yourself with family and loved ones. Realize that the event is likely affecting them, too.
  10. Tell your story, and allow yourself to feel. It’s okay to not be okay during a traumatic experience.
  11. You may experience a desire to withdraw and isolate, causing a strain on significant others. Resist the urge to shut down and retreat into your own world.
  12. Traumatic stress may compromise your ability to think clearly. If you find it difficult to concentrate when someone is speaking to you, focus on the specific words they are saying. Slow down the conversation and try repeating what you have just heard.
  13. Don’t make important decisions when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Allow trusted family members or friends to assist you with necessary decision-making.
  14. If stress is causing you to react physically, use controlled breathing techniques to stabilize yourself. Take a slow deep breath by inhaling through your nose, hold your breath for 5 seconds and then exhale through your mouth. Upon exhalation, think the words “relax,” “let go,” or “I’m handling this.” Repeat this process several times.
  15. Realize that repetitive thinking and sleep difficulties are normal reactions. Try the following: Eliminate caffeine for 4 hours prior to your bedtime, create the best sleep environment you can and take a few moments before turning out the lights to write down your thoughts (thus emptying your mind).
  16. Give yourself permission to rest, relax and engage in non-threatening activity. Read, listen to music, take a warm bath, etc.
  17. Physical exercise may help dissipate the stress energy that has been generated by your experience. Take a walk, ride a bike or swim.
  18. Create a journal. Writing about your experience may help to expose yourself to painful thoughts and feelings, and ultimately enable you to assimilate your experience.
  19. If you find that your experience is too powerful, allow yourself the advantage of professional and/or spiritual guidance, support and education.
  20. Try to maintain your schedule. Traumatic events will disrupt the sense of normalcy. We are all creatures of habit. By maintaining our routines, we can maintain a sense of control at a time when circumstances may lead us to feel a loss of control.
  21. Crisis often presents opportunities. Cultivate a mission and purpose. Seize the energy from your experience and use it to propel you to set realistic goals, make decisions and take action.

To learn more, please visit

Source: Mental Health America

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