“God has mercifully ordered that the human brain works slowly;
first, the blow, hours afterwards, the bruise.” Walter de la Mare, The Return
Trauma (psychological) is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. Your psyche gets hurt by a distressing event,
- which could be a single experience,
- or an enduring or repeating event,
that completely overwhelms your ability and emotions to cope with that experience.
Symptoms of trauma
Immediately after the event, a wide array of symptoms can be experienced by a person:
shock, denial, anger, rage, sadness, confusion, terror, shame, humiliation, grief, sorrow and even suicidal or homicidal idealisation.
Other responses include:
restlessness, fatigue, frustration, fear, guilt, blame, grief, moodiness, sleep disturbance, eating disturbance, muscle tremors or “ticks”, reactive depression, nightmares, profuse sweating episodes, heart palpitations, vomiting, diarrhoea, hyper-vigilance, paranoia, phobic reaction and problems with concentration or anxiety. (APA, 1994; Horowitz, 1976; Young, 1994).
include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea.
These responses can be masked by other problems such as excessive alcohol, tobacco and drug use. Interpersonal relations can become strained, work-related absenteeism may increase, and, in extreme situations, divorce can be an unfortunate by-product. Survivor guilt is also quite common and can lead to severe depressive illness or neurotic anxiety (APA, 1994; Mitchell, 1983; Young, 1994).
While these feelings are normal, some people have difficulty moving on with their lives. It is possible to heal from trauma and move on, even if it happened many years ago. With the proper treatment, self-help strategies and support from people & groups around you, recovery and healing are possible.
Children who experience trauma may suffer severe and long-lasting effects. Traumatised children see the world as a dangerous, frightening place. Trauma that is not resolved in childhood may leave a child feeling helpless and insecure for life. They experience a fundamental sense of fear which can be caused by:
- Abuse: sexual, physical, emotional & verbal
- Domestic violence
- Neglect by parents, the absence of parents, death of parents.
- Serious illness/surgery
- Being separated from parents/ family
- Unsafe environment: war, natural disaster, crime
Coping with trauma
The feelings caused by trauma are powerful and disturbing. In most cases, they settle in time without the intervention needed. The natural reaction to coping with these feelings is grief, and every person heals at their own pace. It is necessary to allow yourself these feelings – to accept what happened and make peace with it.
Symptoms of trauma usually last a few days or months. Trauma fades as you process the trauma. Memories of severe trauma never wholly disappear. A person may be troubled by flashbacks or painful memories from time to time. Sounds smells, and places can bring back memories of the trauma you suffered.
A flashback is when memories of a past event feel like taking place in the current moment.
For example, – it can feel as if the experience of sexual abuse is repeatedly happening like the perpetrator is physically present. During a flashback, it can be not easy to distinguish between reality and fantasy. A flashback can be triggered by reasonably ordinary experiences connected to one’s senses, for example, smell, sight, sound, taste, or touch.
Coping with flashbacks
If you sense you are having a flashback, try the following.
1. Tell yourself you are having a flashback. Remind yourself that the actual event is over and that you have survived.
When we are in shock, we start breathing short, shallow breaths. You need to put your hand on your stomach and breathe deeply and slowly in and out. It increases the oxygen in your system and helps you to move out of the state of anxiousness quicker.
3. Return to the present by using your five senses.
- Sight: Look around you. List in your mind what you see – furniture, people, trees. What do you see?
- Smell: Breath in a comforting scent. Focus on what you are smelling. What are you smelling?
- Hearing: Listen to the noises around you. Turn on some soothing music. What do you hear?
- Taste: Eat or drink something you enjoy. What does it taste like?
- Touch: Hold on to something hot or cold, for example, a cup of tea. What does it feel like?
4. Recognize what would make you feel safer.
Lock the door. Wrap yourself in a blanket. Go to your room. Do whatever makes you feel safer.
More information: https://psychcentral.com/lib/coping-with-flashbacks/
How to prevent flashbacks
Be aware of your triggers. Flashbacks sometimes feel as if they come out of nowhere. There are, however, often early emotional or physical warning signs of a flashback, for example, a change in mood, a feeling of pressure on your chest (anxiety) or sudden sweating.
If you are aware of these warning signs, you can start doing specific calming things to prevent a full-blown flashback.
It is essential to avoid experiences that you know will trigger a flashback.
You also have to plan what you will do to cope with a trigger once you encounter it.
Flashbacks can get worse over time and can be an indicator of PTSD. It is advisable to get professional help to deal with flashbacks to develop tools to manage them.
What can you do to help yourself cope after trauma?
1. Allow yourself time to heal.
2. Stay involved with the people in your life. They are your support structure.
3. Allow yourself to feel what you feel – going through grief is the only way to deal with it.
4. Talk about what happened – don’t keep it locked inside. Get the facts about what happened.
5. Stick to a daily routine of getting up every morning, and doing the things you usually do.
6. Allow yourself to do activities that you feel are a treat.
7. Avoid numbing feelings with alcohol and drugs.
8. Rather do some exercise – it relieves stress & anxiety and helps you sleep better.
9. Consider joining a trauma support group.
10. Get involved with volunteer work – helping someone else not only takes your mind off your situation but also enables you to process your trauma as well.
Questions we can help with:
• How do I know I need help after a traumatic event?
• What are the symptoms of post-traumatic stress?
• How can I conquer my fears after a traumatic event?
• How can I sleep without nightmares again?
• How can I feel safe also?
• How can I stop crying?
• I think I block out what happened…
You can also test yourself – do the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Quiz.