Courtesy of Eera Photography

What is Trauma?

The American Psychiatric Association (APA,2000) defines a trauma as a – direct personal experience of an event that involves actual or threatened death or serious injury, or other threat to one’s physical integrity; or witnessing an event that involves death, injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of another person; or learning about unexpected or violent death, serious harm, or threat of death or injury experienced by a family member or other close associate. The person’s response to the event must involve intense fear, helplessness, or horror (or in children, the response must involve disorganised or agitated behaviour).

Common Responses to Trauma

You will respond to a traumatic event in your unique way but there are common responses that are experienced by many people.

It’s very normal to experience unpleasant emotions to an abnormal, traumatic event. It’s part of the healing and acceptance of the event. You might find that after the initial trauma, you won’t feel anything but when you talk about your experiences or are reminded of the event, you find that you start to feel things. It can help to talk to someone about however you feel.

Behaviour: You’ll tend to withdraw from others and wish to be alone. You’ll feel easily angered and experience mood swings. You may also feel isolated from family and friends, adding tension to relationships. You lose interest in your normal hobbies and tasks. You’ll struggle to talk about the event or may wish to talk about it constantly, thus leading to burnout and lack of respite from the negativity.

In terms of sleep, you’ll struggle with this due to intrusive thoughts.

You’ll feel tired and fatigued, or want to sleep constantly.

You might increase your alcohol intake or take more drugs, and will lose your appetite or overeat. You’ll lose interest in pleasurable activities.

You’ll have little motivation to work and will be affected cognitively (reduced concentration).

You’ll be easily startled by noises and become generally agitated, and experience heart palplitations, trembling or sweating (general physical symptoms of anxiety). You may have breathing difficulties, get headaches or general aches and pains. You might be constipated or have menstrual problems (due to the stress).

Thinking: You’ll get frequent thoughts or images of the traumatic event.

You’ll experience flashbacks or relive the experience.

You’ll get thoughts or images of other frightening events, conjuring up worst-case scenarios.

You’ll get easily upset when exposed to events that remind you of the incident (as on television or in newspapers).

You’ll want to avoid painful memories or feelings.

You’ll want to avoid activities or events that remind you of the incident.

You’ll distract yourself constantly so you don’t need to think about the incident.

You’ll struggle to attend particular places or leave home as you consider you’ll be triggered.

You’ll have nightmares about the event.

You’ll struggle to make decisions and have problems with memory.

You might experience paranoia or phobias and not trust people.

Feeling: Shock

You won’t believe what happened and you feel numb as if you’re in a trance.

You experience fear and anxiety that the event could reoccur.

You worry about the safety of loved ones and of being left alone.

You worry about the legal process of an event (victims of crime).

You are anxious about breaking down.

You feel angry with those who caused the incident.

You want revenge against the perpetrator.

You blame yourself or feel responsible for the incident.

You feel angry that others don’t understand you.

You experience grief and sadness about your losses, the loss of feeling safe, the loss of trusting others, and general sadness.

You feel shame and guilt for feeling helpless, emotional, or needy and not responding as you would have liked in the event.

You feel helpless and frustrated at not having a normal life. You are frustrated by the injustice of the incident and ask ‘Why Me?’

You are frustrated by the injustice of the incident and ask ‘Why Me?’

Your response to the trauma might be intense in the beginning and will reduce after 3-6 weeks. Your life should return to normal and you will gain a deeper understanding of yourself. However, if  these symptoms don’t change, they can develop into Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, which requires specialist counselling.

Strategies for Managing Trauma

  • talk to people and express your emotions.
  • have more rest than usual and make time for relaxation.
  • Get the support of others if you feel isolated.
  • Recurring thoughts, dreams or flashbacks are normal and you don’t need to resist them. In time, they’ll reduce in frequency and become less distressing.
  • Be active, as exercise helps with the endorphins.
  • Write down your thoughts.
  • Tell yourself that the incident is over and you are now safe.
  • If you struggle with sleep, get out of bed and do something boring that will make you tired so you can return to sleep. Don’t drink stimulants such as coffee, tea, or coke.
  • Establish a routine as soon as possible.
  • Allow yourself to sit with your bad feelings as these are normal after a traumatic event.
  • Return to work only if you feel you can perform.
  • Spend some alone time as required.
  • Don’t feel you need to have complete control of your life initially.
  • Eat healthy foods.
  • Add in a pleasurable activity each day.
  • Don’t make huge decisions straight after the incident. Only make small daily decisions that will give you your sense of control.

To conclude, there is a way out of trauma. Follow the strategies above or get professional help if you’re struggling to function on a daily basis.

In my book, Rising Hearts, the main character has experienced a traumatic event and finds her own strategies to manage her pain. Check it out here:

Please leave a comment below about whether you know someone who has experienced trauma and how you’ve helped them.