Counseling Center


  • Counseling Center
    Fax: 202-885-1397
    Mary Graydon, Room 214

    Mon and Thurs: 9am-6pm
    Tues, Wed, and Fri: 9am-5pm

    Summer hours: M-F 9am-5pm

    Closed Saturday and Sunday

Mailing Address

Coping with a Sudden Terrible Event

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What is a traumatic event?

Most of us at some point in our lives will experience a sudden, terrible, overwhelming event. The event or our reactions to it are called a trauma. Examples of such events include an unexpected death or near-death, an automobile or other accident, a disaster such as a fire or earthquake, a physical or sexual assault or other act of violence, or the onset of a significant illness. The event might occur to us or to someone we know or care about, or it might be something we witness.

What are normal reactions?

Everyone reacts differently to a traumatic event. We are shocked by it, and it can shake us to our foundations. The following are some common and normal reactions:

Physical Reactions

Cognitive Reactions

Emotional Reactions

fatigue difficulty concentrating helplessness or meaninglessness
changes in sleeping patterns difficulty making decisions numbness or hypersensitivity
changes in eating patterns flashbacks or preocupation with the event fear, panic, feeling unsafe
changes in other activities memory disturbances moodiness, crying, or depression
digestion problems or stomachaches a sense that things aren't real anger or guilt
headaches or dizziness   isolation from other people
physical tension, shakiness or weakness   feeling that your thoughts or emotions are out of control 
    neediness, not wanting to be alone


How can I cope?

  • Talking about the event and listening to others talk about it are important ways of understanding and making sense of what happened. Find a context in which you are comfortable - one-to-one, with a group, or writing in a journal or a letter to a friend. 
  • As much as you can, continue your usual routines. It may feel meaningless or uncomfortable, because"normal" life may not feel so normal any more. But walk through your usual activities as well as you can. 
  • Allow yourself time to react to the event however you need to. If you need some time alone, take it. If you need to cry, go ahead. If you need company, seek it out. 
  • Mental or physical activity can be very healing: try taking a walk, exercising, writing in a journal, or reading. 
  • Be aware of and avoid urges to numb your pain with drugs or alcohol. If you are taking a prescription medication, continue to follow the usual instructions and contact your doctor if you feel a change is in order. 
  • If you are troubled by any of your physical, cognitive, or emotional reactions, or they do not begin to ease after several weeks, tell someone. A parent, counselor, or advisor can support you in your efforts to cope. 


How can I contact a counselor?

If you would like to consult with a counselor about how things are going for you, call the Counseling Center at x3500 or stop by Mary Graydon Center 214. Appointments are usually available within a day or two, and emergency appointments are available the same day.