Recognizing and Dealing with Traumatic Stress Reactions

Distressing memories, images, or thoughts

  • Remind yourself that they are just memories
  • Remind yourself that it is natural to have some memories of the traumatic event
  • Talk about them with someone you trust
  • Remind yourself that memories will lessen with time

Anxiety or panic

  • These reactions are not dangerous
  • You are not going to die or have a heart attack
  • It is important to focus on your breathing
  • Take calm and deep breathes
  • As you inhale, slowly count to 4, then exhale while counting to 4, and repeat


  • Keep your eyes open; look around and notice where you are
  • Remind yourself where you are, and that you are in the present, while the trauma happened in the past
  • Get up and move around
  • Tell someone you trust about what is happening
  • Remind yourself that this is a common reaction
  • Tell your doctor or counselor about the flashback

Trauma-related dreams or nightmares

  • If you awaken from a dream in panic, remind yourself that you are just reacting to a dream and not in any real danger
  • Get out of bed to reorient yourself
  • Engage in a calming activity, like drink a glass of milk or pet the dog
  • Talk to someone if possible
  • Tell your doctor

Difficulty falling or staying asleep

  • Keep to a regular sleep schedule
  • A void strenuous exercise before going to bed
  • A void using your sleeping area for anything other than sleep
  • Avoid using alcohol, tobacco, or caffeine
  • Do not lie in bed worrying, instead get up and do something pleasant

Difficulty concentrating

  • Slowdown
  • Give yourself time to focus
  • Write things down
  • Break tasks up into to simple chunks
  • Determine with a doctor or counselor whether this is a sign of depression

Irritability, anger, and rage

  • Take time out to cool off
  • Exercise regularly
  • Remind yourself that staying angry increases your distress
  • Consider taking anger management classes
  • If you blow up at someone, find time as soon as you can to apologize and let them know what you are doing to cope