At some point in our lives most of us will either directly experience or know someone who has been exposed to a traumatic event. These experiences are often sudden and overwhelming. It is not uncommon for people that have been exposed to a traumatic situation to have a strong emotional reaction. Many of these responses are in fact normal reactions to unusual and abnormal events.
Shock and denial are typical responses to disasters and other kinds of trauma, especially shortly after the event.
After the initial shock subsides, reactions vary from one person to another. The following however are normal responses to a traumatic event:
• Feelings become intense and sometimes become unpredictable. You may become more irritable than usual and your mood may change backand forth dramatically. You might be especially anxious or nervous, or even become depressed.
• Thoughts and behaviour patterns are affected by trauma. You might have vivid memories of the event. You may find it difficult to concentrate or may find it difficult to make decisions. Sleep and eating may also be disrupted.
• Recurring emotional reactions are common. Anniversaries of the event such as one month or one year, as well as reminders of the event make trigger upsetting emotions. The triggers may be accompanied by fears that the stressful event may be repeated.
• Interpersonal relationships often become strained. You may become more argumentative or you might become more withdrawn and isolated.
• Physical symptoms may accompany the extreme stress. For example some headaches, nausea, and chest pain may result amd may require medical attention. Pre-existing medical conditions may worsen due to stress.
Some people respond to trauma immediately , while others may have delayed reactions—some times months or even years later. Some have adverse affects for a long period of time, while others recover rather quickly.
A number of factors tend to affect the length of time required for recovery, including:
• The degree of intensity and loss.
• A person’s general ability to cope with emotionally challenging situations.
• Other stressful events preceding the traumatic experience.
There are a number of steps you can take to help restore emotional well being and a sense of control following a traumatic experience, including the following:
• Give yourself time to heal. Anticipate that this will be a difficult time in your life.
• Allow yourself to mourn the losses you have experienced. Try to be patient with changes in your emotional state. Ask for support from people that care about you.
• Communicate your experience.
• Find out about local support groups. Group discussion can help you realize that you are not alone in your circumstances.
• Engage in healthy behaviours to enhance your ability to cope with excessive stress and get plenty of rest.
• Establish or re-establish routines such as eating meals at regular times and follow an exercise routine.
• Avoid making major decisions in your life at this time.
• Become knowledgeable about stress and trauma.