This article is intended to help adults identify and cope with normal reactions to trauma. It is not to be construed as diagnostic or personal medical advice, nor does it necessarily apply to children. If you are concerned about your own or a loved one’s emotional health, please seek help from a local licensed therapist or psychiatrist.
What Happens after Trauma
We live, largely, in a world of assumptions. Thanks to the routine of everyday life, we assume that we will head off to the place we work, and return to find our loved ones and home, with all of their respective quirks and problems. We assume that the corner grocery will have ample supplies of affordable food, and that tomorrow will be not unlike today. When events happen to rock the foundation of a number of these sort of daily assumptions, minor as they may seem individually, trauma often ensues. Everyone experiences and expresses trauma differently. Our past experiences and beliefs serve as a unique filter for traumatic events. Armed with knowledge of the signs and symptoms of a traumatized mind, we can better prepare to help ourselves and others cope with the problems that affect us.
Emotional trauma-the psychological and biological impact that may result from experiencing or witnessing a threat to one’s life or mental/physical integrity ( can be induced by a number of avenues. Whatever the source of stress – information that comes through the media, direct contact with disaster victims, listening to information about traumatic experiences, or surviving a traumatic event itself – trauma happens to virtually everyone to some degree. The following are some common reactions to trauma in the days and weeks following the event:
Ã¢Â?Â¢ Marked change in appetite, energy level, and/or sleeping patterns
Ã¢Â?Â¢ Hypervigilance and/or increased startle response
Ã¢Â?Â¢ Intrusive recollections of the event-may be limited to sights, smells, or other sensory stimuli
Ã¢Â?Â¢ Inability to express connectedness with family or friends, or;
Ã¢Â?Â¢ Excessive clinging behaviors to loved ones
Ã¢Â?Â¢ Resurfacing of “old” grief and loss issues
Ã¢Â?Â¢ Avoidance or distress in the presence of symbolic reminders
Ã¢Â?Â¢ Difficulty concentrating
This list is not inclusive but a selection of very common symptoms. It is vital to remember that experiencing some or all of these symptoms is a normal reaction to an abnormal occurrence. As the mind searches to make sense out of events that often make no sense at all, the body reacts with changes to vegetative function.
What You Can Do
While it is often not possible to completely withdraw from the situation after the “peak” of a traumatic event, taking some relatively simple steps will increase an individual’s ability to resume relatively normal, safer function. So long as the above symptoms persist, one should strive to:
Ã¢Â?Â¢ TALK about the event with a trusted friend, family member, or therapist. This alone is the single most effective means of recovery.
Ã¢Â?Â¢ Exercise-simply walking, or any other form of exercise, releases endorphins, resulting in improved mood.
Ã¢Â?Â¢ Refrain from increasing use of alcohol or drugs-or abstain completely.
Ã¢Â?Â¢ Use extra caution when, or refrain from, operating a car or heavy machinery.
Ã¢Â?Â¢ Take a leap of faith-those who observe spiritual beliefs or rituals tend to be more resilient after traumatic situations.
If the traumatized person is a friend or loved one, be aware of these symptoms, and consider the absence of healing activities under the “What You Can Do” heading as risk factors. Trauma survivors are at greater risk of accidents and suicide. The outlets listed above can save lives.
Should symptoms persist for more than three to four weeks post-trauma, or if the person experiences inability to conduct normal daily activities as a result of them, seek help from a psychiatrist or licensed therapist.
More information on this topic can be found at the website of the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation: www.icisf.org
Eve Flanigan is a Licensed Professional Counselor in New Mexico. She is a certified Advanced practitioner of Critical Incident Stress Management services. Her background includes work with first responders, industrial workgroups, and family violence survivors. Flanigan now owns and operates Flanigan & Associates Grant Writing & Consulting.