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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

Coping with Tragedy

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Responses to Trauma

An individual's response to encountering a traumatic event can vary widely. Additionally, these responses can vary from day to day or minute to minute. These can include:

  • Denial, shock, numbness
  • Feeling vulnerable, unsafe
  • Anxiety, panic, worry
  • Irritability, anger, moodiness
  • Being hyper-alert or vigilant
  • Disturbing images
  • Headaches, fatigue, sleep disturbances
  • Helplessness, hopelessness
  • Sadness, crying, despair
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Withdrawal, isolation
  • Remembering other life traumas
  • Confusion, forgetfulness, or memory impairment
  • Use of alcohol or other substances to cope with disturbing feelings
  • It is also not unusual to have no reaction at all.

Building vs. Dividing Community

After any tragic event, a sense of community or togetherness is essential for helping students feel supported and cope with their reactions to traumatic events. In addition to feeling sadness or numbness related to a traumatic event, students can also experience anger or rage. While these feelings have a place in the grieving process, attention should be paid to acts of aggression that might thwart building a feeling of community. An individual might look to express hostility towards others that had nothing to do with the traumatic event. Such actions divide the community, promoting distrust and irrational hate that hamper the healing process. Building a sense of community can be fostered by:

  • Being aware that people experience different reactions to traumatic events.
  • Reaching out and providing support by listening to others, giving them space for voicing their feelings.
  • Respecting a student’s need to spend time alone, too.
  • Helping each other with everyday tasks where possible (run errands, share a meal, pick up mail, care for a pet, etc.).
  • Consider organizing informal group activities (e.g., a brown-bag lunch). Such activities can provide a forum for support.
  • Helping students connect with supportive resources on campus and in the community.
  • Managing feelings of anger and rage, not by taking them out on others, but through activities such as exercise, talking to a friend, keeping a journal.
  • Organizing and participating in fund raising and blood drives to support relief efforts.
  • Organizing and attending campus forums on the meaning of the tragedy in our world, country, and community.


  • Counseling Center 507-389-1455
  • Student Health Services 507- 389-6276
  • Campus Ministry 507-625-6779
  • Employee Assistance Program 1-800-657-3719



Adapted from Dartmouth College’s  “Response to Tragedy”