Managing Stress Reactions with Self-Care Strategies

Experiencing a traumatic event can lead to various stressors. Each individual processes trauma differently, resulting in numerous reactions to stress. Reactions depend on how close you were to the event, physically and psychologically, if you played a role in the event, where you’re currently at in your life, how you’ve historically handled personal crises, and the level of support you receive from friends, family, and coworkers. 

Reacting to a Traumatic Event 

Physical reactions to a traumatic event often include flu-like symptoms: nausea, headaches, muscle aches, appetite changes, and fatigue. Mental reactions leave many people replaying the event in their heads, feeling disoriented, having difficulty concentrating, and experiencing fearful thoughts. Emotional reactions can lead to grief, withdrawal, anxiety, and numbness. Although these reactions are temporary feelings, many people struggle while coping with a traumatic event. 

In the wake of an abnormal event, it’s important to remind yourself that these reactions and feelings are normal. Additionally, it’s typical to experience challenges when you return to work. You might be fearful and hypervigilant of your surroundings, have strained relationships with colleagues, experience triggering flashbacks, feel angry and isolated—all of which can negatively impact your work performance. Although coping can be difficult, taking care of yourself will positively impact the way you process these events. 

Self-Care Strategies

Understanding that your feelings are temporary and will typically pass within a few weeks is the first step in coping with a traumatic event. Actively choosing to take care of yourself allows you to redefine the way you react to the event. There are physical, emotional, and mental self-care strategies that you can practice to help process traumatic events in a healthy way. 


Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet and getting enough sleep every night plays a significant role in your overall well-being. Participating in some form of exercise and staying away from drugs and alcohol will regulate your mood and reduce stress. Allocating time each day to do a relaxing activity that you enjoy, such as meditation or yoga, will help nurture your body. 


It’s important to recognize your feelings and surround yourself with a strong support system of family and friends with whom you can reach out and spend time. Writing down what you’re feeling in a journal can also be beneficial or finding comfort in a cathartic activity, such as music or painting. Letting go of what you can’t control will put you at ease emotionally. 

Grief isn’t a linear process and looks different on everyone, so giving yourself grace for how you feel from one day to the next during this process is vital to your emotional well-being. In some cases, anger can cover up other emotions such as fear, hurt, or powerlessness, so it’s important to understand that and not take your emotions out on others. Practicing spirituality can also be a form of emotional support for some people. 


Always rely on factual information about an event. Structure your time wisely, set short-term goals, and focus on activities that positively engage your mind and body. Remind yourself of your strengths and the challenges you have overcome in the past. Don’t be so hard on yourself and lower expectations on what you’re capable of accomplishing. Give your mind a break from overthinking about the traumatic event or what might happen next. Instead, concentrate on what you’re grateful for and the positive things in your life. 

To manage anxiety, focus on small tasks first. Break down your larger tasks into manageable pieces, and give yourself credit for accomplishing each step. If you find yourself in a moment of heavy anxiety, try the 5-4-3-2-1 method to realign your thoughts. In your mind, list off 5 things you see, 4 things you feel, 3 things you hear, 2 things you smell, and 1 thing you taste. Sometimes our minds run faster than we can keep up, but simple practices like this will return some of that mental control as you redirect your thoughts to something specific.

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