Normal Reactions To An Abnormal Event


Anyone that experiences a stressful event may experience one or more of these common signs and symptoms.  These are normal reactions to an abnormal event, and although painful, they are part of the healing process.  There is not a lot anyone can do to make your loved one not experience uncomfortable reactions, but the things listed in this brochure may help them feel more whole.


  • fatigue
  • muscle tremors/twitches
  • nausea
  • elevated blood pressure
  • thirst
  • nonspecific body complaints
  • headaches
  • loss or increase in appetite
  • dizziness
  • visual difficulties
  • vomiting
  • rapid heart rate
  • weakness
  • grinding of teeth
  • chills
  • profuse sweating
  • fainting
  • difficulty breathing*
  • chest pain*
  • shock symptoms*
    *Indicates need for medical evaluation


  • anxiety
  • guilt
  • grief
  • panic
  • denial
  • emotional shock
  • fear
  • uncertainty
  • depression
  • apprehension
  • feeling overwhelmed
  • emotional outburst
  • intense anger
  • irritability
  • agitation
  • sadness
  • feeling numb or cold
  • denial of reality
  • feeling isolated
  • intense worry about others
  • loss of emotional control


  • blaming someone
  • hyper vigilance
  • confusion
  • nightmares
  • uncertainty
  • suspiciousness
  • poor concentration
  • poor decision-making
  • memory problems
  • intrusive images poor problem solving
  • poor abstract thinking
  • disturbed thinking
  • distressing dreams
  • increased vigilance/watchfulness
  • difficulty identifying familiar objects or people
  • increased or decreased awareness of surroundings
  • disorientation (time, place and/or person)
  • react to criticism, as if attacked


  • change in socialization
  • suspiciousness
  • change in eating habits
  • intensified pacing
  • inability to rest / relax
  • sleep problems
  • antisocial acts
  • pacing
  • erratic movements
  • less humor
  • withdrawal/isolation (“others do not understand”)
  • change in usual communications/speech
  • increase in alcohol and/ or drug consumption
  • change in sexual functioning
  • hyper alert to environment


  • crisis of faith
  • doubt
  • preoccupation
  • questioning beliefs or values

Source:  International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, Inc., 1995


Taking Control of Your Stress

  • Increase your physical activity – within the first 24-48 hours, periods of exercise (walking, running, aerobics, yard or house work, etc.) alternated with relaxation will alleviate some physical reactions.
  • Share your stress – sometimes just talking with a friend or family member helps.
  • Sleep and diet – the better rested and nourished you are, the better equipped you are to tackle your stress.
  • Recognize your limits – learn to accept that you are not capable of doing all things all the time. You are healing.
  • Get involved – becoming a participant is a good way to reduce stress.
  • Prioritize your time – write down the things you have to do in the order that they have to be done.
  • Alcohol and drugs – neither helps you to actually manage your stress.
  • Do things that you enjoy doing – do something for yourself that might make you feel better, even for a little while.
  • Realize that those around you are under stress also – share your feelings with others and check out how they’re doing.

Remember – You are normal and your reactions are the normal reactions of one who has experienced an abnormal event.


Things to Try

  • Within the first 24-48 hours, periods of strenuous physical exercise alternated with relaxation will alleviate some of the physical reactions.
  • Structure your time – keep as busy as possible.
  • You’re normal and having normal reactions – don’t label yourself as “going crazy”.
  • Talk to people – talk is the most healing medicine.
  • Be aware of numbing the pain with overuse of drugs or alcohol, you don’t need to complicate this with a substance abuse problem.
  • Reach out – people do care.
  • Keep your life as normal as possible.
  • Spend time with others.
  • If others are involved help them as much as possible by sharing your feelings and checking out how they’re doing.
  • Give yourself permission to feel “awful” and share your feelings with others.
  • Keep a journal; write your way through those sleepless hours.
  • Do things that feel good to you.
  • Realize those around you are under stress.
  • The Nutrition Almanac recommends supplementing your diet with Vitamins C, B2, B6, Calcium and Magnesium.
  • Don’t make any big life changes or decisions in the next couple of months (e.g. divorce, quit job, move). Hold your thought(s), try to not take action for at least 6 weeks.
  • Do make as many daily decisions as possible, which will give you a feeling of control over your life, (e.g., if someone asks you what you want to eat – answer him or her even if you’re not sure).
  • Eat well – but there is no need to force yourself if it makes you ill.

Posted on

February 15, 2017

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