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Responding To Traumatic Events

Reactions to Stress            Managing Stress             Getting Help              Links

We live in challenging times. Events that we see on the news as well as difficult events in our own lives can make us upset. If you have personally experienced an extremely stressful event, or you’ve seen or heard about a terrible event happening to other people, you might feel sad, anxious, or angry. In addition, you may have trouble sleeping or concentrating and you might think a lot about what has happened. These are normal reactions to an abnormal event, and most of the time we feel better as time passes.

Occasionally, stressful thoughts and feelings after a difficult event can last for a long time and can even get in the way of your ability to live your life. In those situations, it’s best to seek professional help.

Emotional Signs

Some of the emotional signs that you may need help dealing with a stressful event include:

  • Worrying a lot or feeling sad or fearful most of the day
  • Crying often
  • Having trouble thinking clearly
  • Reliving the experience and feeling frightened
  • Feeling angry
  • Having nightmares and trouble sleeping
  • Avoiding places or people that bring back disturbing memories

Physical Signs

Stressful events can also take a toll on our bodies. Here are some physical signs to look out for:

  • Headaches
  • Stomach pain and digestive problems
  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Racing heart and sweating
  • Being very jumpy or easily startled

Managing Stress

Managing stress is an important part of mental and physical health. You may wish to try one or more of the following strategies to reduce or manage stress.

  1. Relax: Listen to music, sit on the sand and watch the ocean, meditate, sign up for an activity, drink a cup of tea and watch a show or movie you enjoy. It is often helpful to schedule relaxation, otherwise we tend to put it off. If there's an activity that helps you to relax, try to schedule time for it.
  2. Sleep: Make sure you are getting enough sleep. Stay away from your phone, computer and TV during this rest time.
  3. Stay connected: Reach out to family and friends for support, a distraction, or even just to chat. Seek out people you are comfortable talking to.
  4. Limit consumption of news and social media: With several 24-hour news channels and multiple social media platforms, make sure that you are not getting too much news, and that you are getting your news from a trusted news source.
  5. Exercise: Activity helps to get rid of stress hormones. If you don't formally exercise or do yoga, then go for a walk, do some housework, or other light activity. Even if you are not able to do these, learn "progressive muscle relaxation."
  6. Maintain a routine: Stick to your normal routine. Have regular meals, schedule your sleep.
  7. Be patient: Be patient with yourself and others.
  8. Take kind and compassionate action in your community: Some people feel better when they are part of a cause or doing something to help others.

Getting Help

Finding a mental health professional can be a challenging process, especially if you’re already not feeling well. Here are some things to know:

  • Many people start off by talking to their primary care physician. Mental health problems are so common that primary care physicians are often helping people to get the mental health treatment that they need. They may not always notice the problem if you don’t say anything, so it is best if you mention it to them.
  • People will often have treatment with a mental health specialist. The most common types of mental health treatment are medication and talk therapy. Trained professionals who provide psychotherapy include psychiatrists (who have an MD or a DO degree), psychologists (who have a PhD or a PsyD degree), licensed clinical social workers (who have an LCSW degree), marriage and family therapists (who have an MFT), and others. Psychiatrists prescribe psychiatric medication. Psychiatric nurse practitioners are nurses who specialize in prescribing psychiatric medication.

How do I choose a mental health specialist and make an appointment?

Mental health specialists can be found in almost every community. They work in clinics, centers, and hospitals and with programs, services, and departments. Here are some ways that people typically find a mental health provider:

  • You may wish to start your search for a specialist by asking your primary care physician. He or she may have a close working relationship with a mental health specialist in your area.
  • You can also search online for a specialist or talk with friends for a recommendation.
  • Your insurance company may also have a number of specialists in their network. There is usually a number on the back of your insurance card which you can call for more information, or you may be able to look online at your insurance company’s website for a provider who accepts your insurance and is accepting new patients. Your insurance company may ask you to get a referral from your primary care physician, which is another good reason to talk with him or her.
  • Your employer may offer an “Employee Assistance Program.” Their staff might have access to resources for mental health problems or addiction, and their services are often confidential.
  • In San Diego, you can also call the San Diego Access and Crisis Line for more information on local resources. A service of the county, the Access and Crisis Line is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Their number is 1-888-724-7240.

If it’s a crisis, call 911 or visit the nearest Emergency Room. The ER is there to help people get through emergencies, including mental health crises. If things are so bad that you are planning to hurt yourself or someone else, go straight to the nearest ER and let the professionals there help you get the help you need.

Don’t forget that if you’re not feeling well, there are a lot of other people who can help connect you to a specialist or to whom you can reach out for support. Friends and family may be able to help. Although they may not be mental health professionals, religious leaders are often good sources of support. You may also want to join a support group, including Alcoholics Anonymous or similar programs and other groups such as those affiliated with the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI). There are a number of other organizations which offer telephone support too.

Useful Links

UC San Diego Health has a number of specialty mental health programs that accept many insurances. To learn more about UC San Diego’s Psychiatry services, go to:

The UC San Diego Health Center for Mindfulness offers resources and free mindfulness sessions for stress and anxiety management:

To access the San Diego Crisis Line:

For more information about how to cope with traumatic events and how to get help, visit the National Institute of Mental Health website:

Self-help Resources for Individuals Impacted by Stressful or Traumatic Events:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255) or text 838255. Free and confidential support available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Includes many resources to help veterans and their families understand PTSD and PTSD treatment including videos, self-help tools, phone apps, and materials to read.


PTSD Coach PTSD Coach (iOS & Android) Can help people manage symptoms that often occur after trauma. Features include information on PTSD and treatments, tools for screening and tracking symptoms, tools to handle stress, direct links to support and help.

Mood and Depression Apps

T2 Mood Tracker T2 Mood Tracker (iOS & Android) Allows users to monitor and track emotional health. Originally developed as a tool for service members to easily record and review their behavior changes, particularly after combat deployments, it has now become very popular with many civilian users around the world.

Positive Activity Jackpot Positive Activity Jackpot (iOS & Android) Uses a professional behavioral health therapy called pleasant event scheduling (PES), which is used to overcome depression and build resilience. This app features augmented reality technology to help users find nearby enjoyable activities and makes activity suggestions with local options and the ability to invite friends. Users can also “pull the lever” and let the app’s jackpot function make the choice for them.

Anxiety and Stress Apps

Breathe2Relax Breathe2Relax (iOS & Android) A portable stress management tool that includes hands-on diaphragmatic breathing exercises. Users can record their stress level on a 'visual analogue scale' by simply swiping a small bar to the left or to the right.

TacticalBreather TacticalBreather (iOS & Android) Used to gain control over physiological and psychological responses to stress. Through repetitive practice and training, users can learn to gain control of their heart rate, emotions, concentration, and other physiological and psychological responses to the body during stressful situations.

Mindfulness Apps

MindfulnessCoach MindfulnessCoach (iOS & Android) Designed to be used alone or as a part of treatment. Features include education about mindfulness, mindfulness exercises, strategies to help overcome challenges to mindfulness practice, log of mindfulness exercises to track progress, and reminders to support mindfulness practice.