Trauma Care and Recovery Guide

Coping with a traumatic injury

A sudden traumatic injury is usually overwhelming and frightening for patients and families. It is important for you to realize that there is no one “standard” reaction to this stress. However, there are some common physical, emotional and behavioural responses that are normal, and which can change over time.

Clipboard icon Some tips for coping

Tips for patients and families

Patients and families experience good and bad days during recovery. There are a number of strategies may help you cope:

  • You have a right to information. Don’t be afraid to ask questions: Getting and giving information can help you to understand what is going on and to make decisions about your care. Find out about the various members of your health-care team, and make note of their names. Writing down information can be a good idea because stress can affect your memory.

  • Ask for support from people around you. This includes family and friends, and also the members of the health-care team. Do not be afraid to let people know what you need, such as a home-cooked meal or a ride to the hospital to visit your loved one.

  • Express your feelings. Share your feelings with trusted friends, family and staff. This recovery involves emotions not just the physical recovery.

  • Take care of yourself. Make sure you are eating properly and getting enough rest. Some families are afraid to leave the hospital: if you are unsure, talk it over with the team. Relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises and simple meditation can also help.

  • Keep normal routines as much as you can. While this may be a challenge, keeping a normal routine is often necessary for financial reasons, and it is especially important when children’s lives are changed by the traumatic injury of a family member.

  • Talk to children about the injury. Adults need to tell children that they are safe and will be cared for. Children want factual information. The health-care team can give you ideas about what to say and how to talk to children about the injuries. The way to talk to them will depend on their age. Do not give any false hopes, especially in critical patient situations. Sunnybrook has no age restrictions in terms of children visiting any of the intensive care units or wards; this is a decision to be made by the parent, and should always include preparing the child before the visit.

  • Avoid major life decisions. At a time of crisis, you are not usually able to deal with making major life changes, such as moving houses or changing a job.

  • Know what to expect as a result of trauma. This includes the physical, emotional and practical aspects of the injury and the recovery process during the hospital stay and after.

  • Know when to seek professional help. It is not unusual for many patients and families to need assistance from trained professionals to help deal with the stress of the injury. Reach out to a health-care provider (at the hospital or through your family doctor) to receive the right kind of support. Over time, you can regain control of your life.

Tips for dealing with anxiety and stress

It is normal to feel anxious following an injury, even after you leave the hospital. The following tips may help you cope:

  • BREATHE – a deep breath through your nose increases airflow to your lungs and helps to slow down your heart rate. Breathe out slowly through your mouth.
  • Talk to someone supportive such as a friend, family member or counsellor.
  • Take a hot shower or bath.
  • Have a cup of tea or soothing beverage.
  • Listen to relaxing music or watch a movie or TV, for distraction.
  • If you are able to, go outside, take a walk or go for a jog.
  • To release tension, punch or yell into a pillow.
  • Pray or meditate. There are many smart-phone applications that give you easy-to-follow guided meditations, such as “Stop, Breathe, Think.”
  • Write down your thoughts/feelings in a journal.

Longer-term stress reactions


After a traumatic injury, some people experience stress for many months or years. These reactions do not always require mental-health assistance. However, when they increase rather than get better over time, and disturb everyday life, then it may be Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

When you are a patient at Sunnybrook, the team will ask you about how you are coping after your trauma. If there is concern that you are having a hard time coping or may need more support for the future in order to prevent PTSD, you may be asked to fill out some questionnaires in order for us to know how we can help while you are in the hospital.

Sometimes, symptoms like these may only appear after you have gone home from the hospital. In these cases, it is important to talk with your family doctor about community resources and supports that can be helpful for you. Your family doctor can also decide to make a referral to the Sunnybrook Post-Trauma Mental Health Clinic.