Responding to Stressful Events

The psychological impact of a stressful event can be immediate or delayed, and those affected directly or indirectly can feel a range of emotions and reactions. 

In the wake of stressful events our reactions can affect us physically or emotionally. It can affect our thinking.

After an emergency or disaster, people may feel dazed or even numb. They may also feel sad, helpless, or anxious. In spite of the tragedy, some people just feel happy to be alive. It is not unusual to have bad memories or dreams. You may avoid places or people that remind you of the disaster. You might have trouble sleeping, eating, or paying attention. Many people have short tempers and get angry easily. You may have strong feelings right away. Or you may not notice a change until much later, after the crisis is over. Stress can change how you act with your friends and family.

These are normal reactions to stress and it may take time before you feel better and life returns to normal. Give yourself time to heal.

Things you can do:

Focus on what needs to happen today and what can wait until tomorrow. Try to:

  • Follow a normal routine as much as possible
  • Eat healthy meals. Be careful not to skip meals or to overeat.
  • Exercise and stay active
  • Help other people in your community as a volunteer. Stay busy.
  • Accept help from family, friends, co-workers, or clergy. Talk about your feelings with them.
  • Limit your time around the sights and sounds of what happened. Don’t dwell on TV, radio, or newspaper reports on the tragedy.

Online resources include:

When should I get help?

Sometimes we need to get help from a health professional such as a psychologist, family doctor, psychiatrist, social worker or nurse. Ask for help if you:

  • Can't return to a normal routine
  • Are not able to take care of yourself or your children.
  • Are not able to do your job.
  • Use alcohol or drugs to get away from your feelings.
  • Feel extremely helpless.
  • Feel sad or depressed for more than two weeks.
  • Think about suicide.
  • Having thoughts of hurting self or others

Where can I get help?

Ottawa residents and families can access community mental health resources available in Ottawa: 

  • The Distress Centre answers calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with crisis line specialists providing confidential support. Callers can reach the Centre at 613-238-3311.
  • The Mental Health Crisis Line answers calls for people ages 16 or older 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Callers can reach the line at 613-722-6914. 
  • Tel-Aide Outaouais offers French-language mental health telephone support from 8 a.m. to midnight every day. Ottawa residents can call 613-741-6433 and Gatineau residents can contact 819-775-3223.
  • The Kids Help Phone (1-800-668-6868) provides confidential 24/7 phone and web counselling for children ages 20 and under. 
  • The Youth Services Bureau (YSB) provides youth and family counselling, crisis support, a 24/7 crisis line at 613-260-2360, walk-in counceling and an online crisis chat service for youth at
  • The Walk-In Counselling Clinics provide free, confidential single session counseling sessions throughout Ottawa
  • Ottawa Public Health Information at 613-580-6744 (TTY 613-580-9656).
  • 211 connects callers to community, social, government and health service information in Ottawa 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The service is free, confidential and multilingual.