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People people respond and cope in different ways to psychological and physical traumas. Many people will begin to feel better within a few months, while for others, symptoms will persist. At times, people feel very confused by the intensity or the type of experiences they have after a traumatic event. It is important to remind yourself that you are not alone and that you are having a normal reaction to a traumatic event.

While each person responds uniquely to traumatic events, there are some responses to psychological trauma that are common to many survivors and include the following:

Reexperiencing symptoms:

  • Flashbacks: feeling like you are re-living the trauma over and over, including physical symptoms like a racing heart and sweating
  • Intrusive memories: thoughts and feelings about the trauma that may feel like they come “out of the blue” or with a specific reminder of the trauma
  • Nightmares and bad dreams

Avoidance related symptoms:

  • Staying away from people, places or events that remind you of the trauma
  • Avoiding thoughts and feelings about the trauma (trying to put your feeling to the side)

Arousal and Reactivity symptoms:

  • Problems with anger and aggression (e.g., road rage)
  • Being easily startled
  • Feeling tense or “on edge”
  • Having problems with sleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating on school work and feeling distractible

Changes in thoughts and feelings:

  • Trouble remembering parts of the event (amnesia)
  • Recalling the event in extreme detail (hypernesia)
  • Negative thoughts about oneself (e.g., blaming oneself)
  • Negative thoughts about the world (e.g., feeling the world is completely dangerous)
  • Feelings of guilt or self-blame
  • Loss of interest in enjoyable activities
  • Scary thoughts (thoughts like, “I am going to die,” “I will lose control,” or “If I start crying, I will never stop.”)
  • Emotional numbing: feeling that you are “numb” or are having difficulty having any emotions
  • Feeling in shock
  • Difficulty regulating emotions and impulses (e.g., feelings of intense anger)

Difficulty with relationships:

  • Distrust
  • Not feeling safe with others and wanting to isolate
  • Feeling the world is a dangerous place
  • Having difficulty communicating thoughts and feelings
  • Decreased interest in physical or psychological intimacy
  • Feeling unsafe in large crowds


  • A sense of detachment from physical and emotional experiences, sensations, memories or one’s immediate surroundings. Dissociating may feel like you are “spacing out,” “blanking out” or losing track of time. Some people feel they are observing themselves from an outside perspective.

Problems with substance abuse

Self-harming behaviors

  • Self-harm refers to a person harming themselves deliberately and is often associated with exposure to trauma. Contact a mental health professional, go to a local emergency room, or call 911 immediately if you are having thoughts related to harming yourself (or others) or are cutting or harming yourself in other ways. You can also call the Suicide Crisis Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or CAPS at 434-243-5150.


Survivors of psychological trauma can heal and recover. Both psychotherapy (talk therapy) and medications, or a combination of both, for traumatic stress disorders can help alleviate symptoms. Consultation with a mental health professional can help people determine what treatment best meets their needs since people respond differently. People tend to best heal from trauma when they focus on developing coping skills first and talking about their experiences with people they trust and feel safe with.

While initially reaching out for help can feel quite difficult and may make you feel vulnerable, it is one of the most important and courageous steps to take towards healing and recovery. Some people feel embarrassed to report having mental health symptoms and this can lead to isolation and withdrawal. It is important to remember that traumatic stress symptoms are a normal response to abnormal circumstances.


  • Avoid making big decisions
  • Practice meditation and relaxation techniques multiple times per day, not just when you are feeling anxious
  • If relaxation exercises increase your anxiety, consider using grounding techniques (e.g., describing the environment around you, say a safety statement to yourself to remind yourself that you are safe, say the alphabet very slowly or backwards as a distraction, run water over your hands, stretch, walk slowly, picture people you care about, say a coping statement like, “I can get through this.”)
  • Educate yourself about common reactions to trauma so that you know that you are not alone
  • Seek out support and talk openly with people you feel safe with
  • Use art as a way to express what you are experiencing
  • Use distraction if you are feeling overwhelmed (e.g., walk, listen to music)
  • Avoid using food, alcohol, drugs or excessive exercise to numb yourself; instead reach out to safe and trusted people
  • Get moderate amounts of exercise daily
  • Seek out spiritual or religious resources
  • Distract yourself with positive activities
  • When you have intrusive memories, remind yourself that they are just memories and that the trauma is not happening right now
  • Remind yourself that symptoms usually lessen with time
  • Do not lie in bed thinking and worrying, get up and do something soothing
  • Try journal writing
  • Keep regular routines
  • Remind yourself that your reactions are normal
  • Call or email a friend and invite them to do something with you
  • Connect with people that have had similar experiences


Counseling and Psychological Services 434-243-5150
Maxine Platzer Lynn Women’s Center 434-982-2361
Ainsworth Clinic 434-982-4737
Sheila Johnson Center 434-924-7034
Faculty and Employee Assistance Program 434-423-2643
Madison House HELP Line 434-295-TALK
UVA Medical Center 434-924-0000


Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or 911 in an emergency
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673
Sexual Assault Resource Agency 434-977-7273
Region Ten Emergency Services 434-972-1800

National Center for PTSD:

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) PTSD information:

National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) PTSD Education:

National Alliance on Mental Illness:

International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies:

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (resources on trauma for parents and caregivers):

How to help others in an emotional crisis:

Educational information about traumatic stress:

Common Responses to Trauma and Coping Strategies:

The Sexual Assault Resource Agency in Charlottesville:

Information on Sexual Assault:

Alcoholics Anonymous Resources for Charlottesville:

To find a Mental Health Provider near you:

Mobile App: PTSD Coach
This app can help you learn about PTSD and can help you track and manage your symptoms

For Veterans:

McGuire VA Medical Center Charlottesville Community Based Outpatient Clinic:

For Free mental health treatment for Veterans:

Military One Source:

Wounded Warrior Project:

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