Witnessing a Traumatic Event

Article | September 2016

Witnessing a Traumatic Event

Witnessing a traumatic event can affect you physically, emotionally and mentally. This article is aimed at helping those who have witnessed a traumatic event and those who want to support them.

How a traumatic event can impact you

A traumatic event can affect you emotionally, physically and mentally. These feelings are normal and will usually pass within a few weeks. Below are some common feelings you may have after a traumatic event.

  • Continued thoughts and images of the event.
  • Wanting to stay away from the scene of the event and/or fear of returning to work.
  • Difficulty concentrating, or feeling dazed or confused.
  • Difficulty handling tasks or making decisions.
  • Increased wandering around or just sitting and staring without direction.
  • Feelings of guilt or wishing you could have done something different.
  • Wanting to separate yourself from family, coworkers and friends.
  • Nightmares and/or trouble sleeping.
  • Headaches or other physical reactions such as stomachaches or feeling tired all the time.
  • Using alcohol or drugs to numb your feelings.

How to take care of yourself after a traumatic event

If you have seen or been through a traumatic event, the following may be helpful.

  • Talk to someone. Talking about it may feel uncomfortable, but it may help you feel better.
  • Avoid using alcohol or drugs as way of coping.
  • Keep active. Physical activity is a good way to reduce stress.
  • Eat well and get enough sleep to feel rested. Feeling physically healthy can help you feel emotionally strong.
  • Do something you enjoy. Spend time with your pets. Keep busy with hobbies. Get away to a spot where you feel your best.
  • Use your support system. Talk to friends, your partner, family, or a counselor. Talking about it is a step toward healing.
  • Call your Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Talk to a professional if your reactions are impacting your work or personal life. Consult your employer or human resources contact for employer-based EAP assistance.

How to support someone who has experienced a traumatic event

It can be hard to know what to say or do when someone has experienced a traumatic event. Here are some ways to be supportive during a difficult time.

  • Listen. Ask questions respectfully. If the person seems uncomfortable talking about it, let them know that you’re available if needed.
  • Don’t take the person’s reactions (e.g., anger, withdrawal, irritability) personally. These are normal reactions to a traumatic event.
  • Avoid clichés like “I know how you feel” or “Everything will be all right.”
  • Be honest. If you don’t know what to say, simply say that.
  • Provide a place of safety. Just “be there” for them. Periods of silence can be healing.
  • Allow tears and laughter. They are part of the healing process.
  • Don’t try to fix it. Spending time together is enough.
  • Lower expectations for a while. Those who have experienced a traumatic event often have a hard time concentrating and making decisions. They may struggle to stay on task and complete their work.
  • Offer support with simple things, such as picking up some of their workload (with your manager’s permission), cooking them a meal or taking them out to dinner, or running errands for them.
  • If they seem to be having a hard time getting over the event, give them the EAP number through your employer and suggest they talk to someone there.

This material is provided by Cigna for informational/educational purposes only. It is not intended as medical/clinical advice. Only a health care professional can make a diagnosis or recommend a treatment plan. For more information about your behavioral health coverage, you can call the customer service or the behavioral health telephone number listed on your health care identification card.