“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, that 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 idealization.
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).
Longer-term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea. These responses can be masked within other problems such as excessive alcohol, tobacco and/or 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 serious depressive illness or neurotic anxiety as well (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 the event happened many years ago. With the right treatment, self-help strategies and support from people & groups around you, recovery and healing is possible.
Children who experience trauma may suffer severe and long-lasting effects. Traumatized 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 intervention needed. The natural reaction to cope with these feelings is to grief and every person heals at their own pace. It is necessary to allow yourself these feelings – in order 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 serious trauma never completely fade. 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 as if it is taking place in the current moment.
For example – it can feel if the experience of sexual abuse is happening all over again like the perpetrator is physically present. During a flashback, it can be difficult to distinguish between reality and fantasy. A flashback can be triggered by fairly ordinary experiences connected to one’s sense, 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 5 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 comforting 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 own 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 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, 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 important 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. ”Time heals all wounds’‘
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, doing the things you normally do.
6. Allow yourself to do activities that you feel is 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 you own situation, it helps you process your own 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 night mares again?
• How can I feel safe again?
• How can I stop crying?
• I think I block out what happened…
If you have been through a traumatic event, and you are struggling to cope with it – talk to a counsellor on the LIVE CHAT. Service is online Sundays: 18h00-20h00 / Mondays – Thursdays: 19h00-21h00
The service is free and you may stay anonymous.
You can also test yourself – do the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Quiz.
“Trauma. It doesn’t eke itself out over time. It doesn’t split itself manage-ably into bite-sized chunks and distribute itself equally throughout your life. Trauma is all or nothing. A tsunami wave of destruction. A tornado of unimaginable awfulness that whooshes into your life – just for one key moment – and wreaks such havoc that, in just an instant, your whole world will never be the same again.”
– Holly Bourne, The Manifesto on How to be Interesting