Self Help - Post Traumatic Stress

Coping with a Sudden Terrible Event

What is a traumatic event? Most of us at some point in our lives will experience a sudden, terrible, overwhelming event. The event or our reactions to it are called a trauma. Examples of such events include an unexpected death or near-death, an automobile or other accident, a disaster such as a fire or earthquake, a physical or sexual assault or other act of violence, or the onset of a significant illness. The event might occur to us or to someone we know or care about, or it might be something we witness.What are normal reactions? Everyone reacts differently to a traumatic event. We are shocked by it, and it can shake us to our foundations. The following are some common and normal reactions:

Physical Reactions Cognitive Reactions Emotional Reactions
fatigue difficulty concentrating helplessness or meaninglessness
changes in sleeping patterns difficulty making decisions numbness or hypersensitivity
changes in eating patterns flashbacks or preocupation with the event fear, panic, feeling unsafe
changes in other activities memory disturbances moodiness, crying, or depression
digestion problems or stomachaches a sense that things aren't real anger or guilt
headaches or dizziness   isolation from other people
physical tension, shakiness or weakness   feeling that your thoughts or emotions are out of control
    neediness, not wanting to be alone

How Can I Cope?

  • Talking about the event and listening to others talk about it are important ways of understanding and making sense of what happened. Find a context in which you are comfortable - one-to-one, with a group, or writing in a journal or a letter to a friend.
  • As much as you can, continue your usual routines. It may feel meaningless or uncomfortable, because"normal" life may not feel so normal any more. But walk through your usual activities as well as you can.
  • Allow yourself time to react to the event however you need to. If you need some time alone, take it. If you need to cry, go ahead. If you need company, seek it out.
  • Mental or physical activity can be very healing: try taking a walk, exercising, writing in a journal, or reading.
  • Be aware of and avoid urges to numb your pain with drugs or alcohol. If you are taking a prescription medication, continue to follow the usual instructions and contact your doctor if you feel a change is in order.
  • If you are troubled by any of your physical, cognitive, or emotional reactions, or they do not begin to ease after several weeks, tell someone. A parent, counselor, or advisor can support you in your efforts to cope.

Where to go on campus for help:

University Health Services
910 Madison Avenue (Plaza Building)
Memphis, TN 38163

Call 448-5064 for more information on scheduling an appointment.


If you are a UTHSC student or employee, you may now schedule appointments, exchange messages with UHS staff, complete forms or surveys, check your financial account summary, or review/print immunizations through a secure online web-based portal using your NetID and password! You can also call (901) 448-5630 to schedule an appointment. An after hours on call providers are available to you by calling (901) 541-5654.


Monday to Friday 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. (close daily between 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.)


910 Madison, 9th floor

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University Health Services
910 Madison Ave. Suite 922
Memphis, Tennessee 38163
Phone: 901-448-5630
Fax: 901-448-7255

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