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Am I Normal? Reactions to Overwhelming Stressful Events

Most people have some reaction to a traumatic event, such as the death or near death of a friend, classmate, or someone you know; being physically or sexually abused; or other overwhelming situations.

These experiences may affect your ability to function and take care of yourself. Everyone's reaction is different and based on personal experiences. It may take a while to have a reaction, and sometimes you may not feel a reaction at all. People often don't realize they are reacting. Sometimes feelings are triggered by having something similar happen at a later time.

Reactions to death or near death can include:

  • Thoughts
  • Physical reactions
  • Emotional reactions
  • Changes in behavior
  • Increased risk taking

Common physical reactions to overwhelming events are:

  • Feeling stressed
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling anxious
  • Nightmares
  • Sadness
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Apprehension
  • Anger
  • Increase in risk-taking
  • Change in appetite (loss of appetite/change in eating behaviors)
  • Sleep problems (too much or too little)
  • Increase in use of alcohol or drugs
  • Withdrawal
  • Headaches
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Irritability/feeling numb
  • Re-enacting the event over and over in your mind
  • Stomachaches

What can I do to feel better?

  • Get involved in activities that you can start and finish in one day
  • Eat healthy foods, drink water, and get physical exercise
  • Talk openly with a friend or person you trust about your feelings
  • Spend time doing things you enjoy, even if this is hard
  • Support a friend – this is remarkably healing
  • Listen to music you think is positive
  • Adequate sleep (adolescents need 9-10 hrs. every night)

When do I need to get additional help?

  • If you continue to have trouble functioning normally for weeks or months after the events
  • When you have a friend who has these reactions and is not getting better
  • When you have thoughts of harming or killing yourself or someone else
  • When you feel like the reactions are running your life
  • If you are feeling overwhelmed or out of control
  • When you are not taking care of yourself

Where can I get help?

  • Parent, friend (who is not overwhelmed), or relative: ___________________
  • Others (who would you put in?): ____________________________________
  • School counselor or nurse: _______________________________
  • Pastor or another adult you trust: ___________________________________
  • Counseling services: ____________________________________________
  • Crisis Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)