‘Trauma’ is a word which is used a lot these days. Yet very few of us understand the true impact which trauma can have upon those experiencing it.
Any event or incident can be ‘traumatic’ if it causes you mental distress. Sometimes, this distress may be long-lasting. Long-lasting distress is known as ‘chronic trauma’, and it can be very hard to cope with. If you’re struggling to regain your emotional equilibrium after a traumatic event, finding a counsellor can help you to process your trauma and get your life (and health) back on track.
TRAUMATIC EVENTS AND THEIR AFTERMATH
In the first moments during and after a traumatic event, you may experience the following:
• Shock. Most people are shocked when they experience something traumatic. We all know what a little shock feels like – everyone has ‘jumped’ at something startling. Immediate, acute shock is like this, but on a much larger scale. Shock can manifest in a number of ways, but it’s common to feel dazed, or numb. You may experience a ‘cold sweat’, in which it feels as though your body has suddenly pushed a wave of chilly water through your pores. You may also experience other physical symptoms, such as elevated heart rate and nausea.
• ‘Numbness’. It’s common for people in acute shock to act in surprisingly ‘normal’ ways in the minutes or hours following the incident. This is because, when it feels like it's in danger, the brain focuses all resources on survival. People in shock may therefore appear ‘dazed’ or ‘numb’ to emotion. A more developed emotional reaction to what has happened usually begins once the brain decides that the danger is over, and it can start to work through its emotions.
THE EMOTIONAL IMPACT OF TRAUMA
Once the initial shock and numbness fades away, it’s likely that you’ll experience a strong emotional reaction. People processing trauma commonly feel a wide range of emotions, including guilt, sadness, anger, relief, fear, shame, rage, and even hope.
These emotions can be scarily intense, and it might be difficult to function as normal while you’re experiencing them. The emotions you’re going through could disrupt your sleep, cause nightmares, make it difficult to concentrate, and even mess with your memory. Headaches, appetite changes, and changes in libido can also crop up as these emotions work their way through.
There is no ‘set pattern’ for a response to trauma. Everyone reacts differently to trauma, and some reactions may seem or feel strange. Don’t put any pressure on yourself to react in a ‘normal’ way, and don’t set a time-limit on your recovery. These things can take a while, and must run their course in their own way. Usually, reactions to traumatic events will fade to manageable levels within a reasonable timeframe.
However, if you feel that your emotions are getting out of control, or that your behaviour in response to those emotions is having a negative impact upon yourself or those around you, finding a trauma counsellor in your area can enable you to deal with what you’re experiencing in a healthy way.
HOW CAN I COPE AFTER EXPERIENCING A TRAUMATIC EVENT?
• Don’t bottle up your feelings. Talking to someone can help you to work through your feelings, and to calibrate your emotions. Sharing your experiences can bring you valuable emotional support, and can help you to accept the reality of what happened. If you’re reluctant to talk to friends or family, an accredited counsellor can help.
• Do take extra care of yourself. This doesn’t just mean treating yourself kindly and nurturing yourself (although that as well!). It also means being a bit more careful while going about your day to day life. The strong emotions you may experience in response to trauma can be very distracting, and distraction can lead to things going wrong. Go gently and with care when doing things like driving, climbing stairs, or cooking.
• Follow a healthy routine. It can be difficult to stick to a routine involving healthy meals, a regular sleep pattern, and moderate exercise when trauma disrupts your life. It’s tempting to turn to comfort food, or to take to your bed, or to stay awake all night under such circumstances. However, difficult though it can be, it’s very beneficial to feed your body and mind with a healthy, regular routine. Regulating and nourishing your body is one of the very best ways to do the same for your mind.
• Do not self-medicate with alcohol, drugs, or other unhealthy coping mechanisms. These things may help to suppress memories in the short-term, but in the long-term they will at best delay healing, and at worst cause many more extremely serious problems.
• Try to avoid making any big changes to your life until you are feeling better. It’s best to avoid making major changes until your emotions have calmed down and your thinking is more grounded.
WHEN DOES TRAUMA BECOME PTSD?
Most trauma will - with a bit of help - fade and heal over time. However, some people may develop a condition called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD typically develops in people who have suffered extreme, severe, and prolonged traumatic stress. People who have taken part in devastating military conflicts, who have been subject to serious abuse, and who have been caught up in natural disasters are more likely than others to develop PTSD. However, any traumatic event can potentially lead to the development of PTSD – it all depends on how the individual experience that event.
People with PTSD may:
• Experience recurring traumatic shock symptoms for months, years, and even decades after the initial events. These may be ‘triggered’ by stimuli which remind them of their trauma – often on a subconscious, instinctive level.
• Be ‘hypervigilant’ – often strung-out, acutely alert, and oversensitive to ‘threat’, whether or not the situation warrants it.
• Struggle to regulate their emotions.
• Feel ‘numb’ – disconnected from the world and from their own feelings.
PTSD is a serious condition, but it is treatable. With professional help, PTSD sufferers can reduce their symptoms and lead a normal, happy life. Treatment for PTSD can be effective even many years into the condition, so it’s never too late to find help for PTSD.
GETTING THERAPY FOR HELP WITH TRAUMATIC EXPERIENCES
Getting mental health help to deal with trauma is an important step forward. Left untreated, trauma can linger, and sometimes even get worse. While most trauma will fade away on its own, given time, an accredited counsellor can help you to process and heal from traumatic experiences in a faster, smoother, and healthier manner. Check our website for advice on how to find the right trauma counsellor for you.