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Last updated: July 19, 2023

What’s normal after a dangerous, life-threatening or traumatic experience?

After an acute traumatic experience, it’s important to notice how your mind and body are responding to your experience. Trauma is a complex process in our nervous system, and even when we might feel “fine,” there might be some signs that our systems are reacting to our experiences. Below are some of the common psychological and physical reactions to acute traumatic incidents.

What might I feel in the days and weeks after?

Sometimes it takes a few days or weeks for you to notice the impact of an acute trauma or life-threatening experience. This is because your nervous system is in “survival” mode – this is what is commonly referred to a “fight, flight or freeze” response.

Often, the first things you will notice are physical reactions. Body pains and aches, insomnia, or an upset stomach are common. It’s easy to attribute this to other things going on in life or to illness, but often it is our body’s way of telling us it is reacting to a life-threatening experience. This is why it is important to take care of your body and physical health immediately following an acute traumatic experience.

What can I do for self-care?

First, note how you are responding to the experience.

  • What are you feeling in your body?
  • What are you feeling psychologically?

Next, return to the basics: Rest your body and mind.

  • Eat healthy nutritious foods
  • Prioritize sleep
  • Drink water
  • Light exercise such as walks
  • A warm shower or bath
  • Connect with people you love and trust

Finally, make a self-care plan

Self-care is not a “one-size fits all.” It will look different for everyone. Here is an example of a Self-care Wheel. From this wheel, select activities that will restore you after your experience. Next, use the self-care plan worksheet to decide how you will care for yourself.

How to access more support

If several weeks or months go by and you are not feeling better, you may be experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is important to seek support from an experienced trauma therapist as early as possible. Below are some basic resources for seeking and starting therapy.

Therapy resources

Talk the Talk: 10 Tips for Starting Therapy
How to Start Therapy – NPR Life Kit Podcast
How to Prepare for Your First Therapy Session
What to Expect During Your First Therapy Session
Psychology Today: The most comprehensive national therapist database. Each therapist on the website has been verified through the Psychology Today system. The benefits of using this system are that it shows you many therapists in your area, allows you to control for therapists who take your insurance, and allows you to filter for other preferences, such as gender identity, area of specialization, and location. You can also use the system to make phone calls and send emails with inquiries. The cons are that there are quite a few therapists listed and it can take time to sort through the options.

Click below for a blank self-care plan that you can download.