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Coping with Shock and Distress

Often people find it hard to cope with everyday life when:

  • someone close to them dies
  • they are involved in or witness tragic accidents or violent incidents
  • they or someone they are close to is faced with life threatening illness, severe disability, a major crisis or a personal tragedy


We have written this page to help you understand why you feel as you do, tell you about ways of coping and let you know where you can get more help if you need it


It's natural to grieve or feel shocked, worried or distressed when something terrible happens.

You may be afraid:

You may feel sadness for deaths and losses of every kind.

  • of something similar happening again
  • of being left alone or of having to leave loved ones
  • of breaking down or losing control
  • that you or those you love could be harmed or distressed
  • you may feel helpless as crises bring out human weaknesses as well as strengths – and we're all human.


You may be longing for all that has gone and for what might have been.

You may feel guilty for being better off than others – surviving, being fit and well, enjoying the good things in life.

You may feel ashamed for being seen as helpless or emotional and needing others to help you through.


You may feel angry

  • at what has happened, at whoever caused it or allowed it to happen
  • at the injustice and senselessness of it all
  • at the shame and indignities you or other people suffered
  • at other people's lack of understanding
  • at other people's inefficiencies
  • at why it has happened to you and not others


It may have brought back memories of your feelings at other sad times in your life, of loss or of love for other people in your life who have died.


Everyone has feelings like these, and they can vary in intensity according to circumstances. They are natural reactions.


Nature heals by letting your feelings and emotions come out. Bottling them up may lead to other and possibly more complicated problems. Remember – crying can give relief. It is not a sign of weakness. You may not feel well.


It's common to have physical and mental sensations such as:

  • tiredness, sleeplessness, bad dreams
  • fuzziness of the mind including loss of memory and concentration
  • dizziness, palpitations, shakes
  • difficulty in breathing, choking in the throat and chest
  • nausea, diarrhoea
  • muscular tension which may lead to pain (headaches, neck and backaches)
  • abdominal pain, tummy ache
  • menstrual disorders
  • change in sexual interest


You may feel numb. Your mind may gradually be letting you feel the impact of what happened so that at first you just feel numb. It may seem unreal, like a dream, something that has not really happened. People may wrongly see this as being strong or uncaring. It helps to keep busy. Helping others can sometimes bring you some relief.

Facing the reality of what happened can help you come to terms with it.


Facing reality by doing things like attending funerals, examining losses or returning to the scene of an accident or tragedy can help people who are suffering from grief, shock or distress to come to terms with what has happened. As you let more about the incident come into your mind you may need to think about it, or talk about it and, at night, dream about it over and over again. Children have similar feelings and should be encouraged to play or draw the event.


Support from other people helps

Accepting emotional and physical support from other people can help. So too can sharing your feelings with other people who have had similar experiences.


You may need time on your own

There will be times when, in order to deal with feelings, you need to be alone or just with your family and friends.


Your family and social life may be affected

New friendships and relationships may develop as a result of what has happened, or strains may appear in existing relationships. Good feelings around giving and receiving may be replaced by conflict. You may feel that others don't understand how you feel and offer you too little support, or that you cannot give them as much as they expect.

Accidents happen more often than severe stress. Extra tension may result in people taking more alcohol or drugs or smoking more than usual.


Some Dos and Don'ts

  • Don't bottle up feelings
  • Do express your emotions and let children share your grief
  • Don't avoid talking about what happened
  • Do take every opportunity to review the experience
  • Do allow yourself to be part of a group of people who care
  • Don't expect memories to go away – the feelings you experience will stay with you for a long time to come
  • Don't forget that children experience similar feelings
  • Do take time out to sleep, rest, think and be with those important to you
  • Do express your needs clearly and honestly
  • Do try to keep your life as normal as possible after the acute grief
  • Do let children talk about their emotions and express themselves in games and drawings
  • Do send children back to school and let them keep up their activities
  • Accidents are more common after severe stress so:
  • Do drive more carefully
  • Do be more careful around the house


If it's hard for you to cope your GP, health services, counselling services or voluntary organisations can help you with advice and support.


When to seek professional help

  • If you feel your emotions are not falling into place into place as time goes by
  • If you feel tense, confused, empty and exhausted
  • If, after a month, you continue to feel numb
  • If you continue to have nightmares or sleep badly
  • If you feel the need to share your feelings but have no one to share them with
  • If your relationships seem to be suffering badly, or if sexual problems develop
  • If you have accidents
  • If you continue to smoke, drink or take drugs to access
  • If your work performance suffers
  • If you are worried that those around you are particularly vulnerable or are not recovering satisfactorily
  • If you have been involved as a helper and are suffering exhaustion


Do remember that:

  • you are basically the same person you were before this happened
  • help is available


Where to get help

Many GPs have access to counselling and support services. You may prefer to contact other organisations.

The following organisations may be able to help you:

Tel:  0800 1111 (children's line)

Counselling Directory
Tel:  0844 8030 240

Cruse Bereavement Care

Tel:  0844 477 9400 (daytime helpline)


Tel:  0845 7909090 National Number


Chums (Child Bereavement, Trauma and Wellbeing Service)

Tel:    01525 863924

Email: info@chums.uk.com

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Health and Social Care

Bedford Borough Council is responsible for social care services within the borough. This section explains how we support people of all ages who may need care either at home or in another setting.


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