A significant number of people experience traumatic events at one point; statistics show that at least 70% of adults encounter at least one traumatic event in their lifetime.
While it’s common to experience a traumatic event, whether from a global pandemic, plane crash, terrorist attack, etc., it can severely impact your emotional, physical, or psychological health. It can also affect your sense of well-being and security and leave you sensitive and paranoid of situations, people, and the environment.
These unpleasant feelings often result in other complications, including anxiety, depression, insomnia, and abnormal responses to situations.
However, the good news is that no matter what the traumatic event you’ve experienced is, there are strategies and treatments you can undergo to recover from the way you feel. This article discusses the signs and symptoms of traumatic events and coping mechanisms.
What are traumatic events?
Traumatic events are scenarios that cause physical, emotional, or psychological pain. They could be a series of experiences that put you or someone close to you at risk of harm.
When you experience a traumatic event, you may be physically, emotionally, or psychologically frightened. In some scenarios, you may be too numb to feel anything. You may feel intense emotions through the body’s “fight or flight response.” You could also be in shock or denial about your experience.
Examples of traumatic events include:
- Natural disasters (floods, hurricanes, etc.)
- Domestic abuse
- Witnessing a death
- Road accidents
- Plane crash
- Life changes include moving to a new place, changing careers, etc.
Signs and symptoms of traumatic stress
Traumatic stress is a reaction to disturbing events. It is often associated with several symptoms because different emotions from the traumatic events trigger the patients. The symptoms can improve or deteriorate, depending on the treatment received. Traumatic stress may lead to acute stress disorder — a severe and unpleasant response to traumatic events that happen weeks after the event occurs. Prolonged acute stress disorder leads to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) occurring after several weeks of acute stress disorder.
People react to traumatic stress in different ways. They may respond emotionally, psychologically, and physically. The most common first reaction is shock and denial. People often stay in denial and shock to prevent themselves from feeling emotional pain from the traumatic experience. Most times, they move past the shock in weeks.
Then, it develops into intense and apparent symptoms. Other times, it’s a mix of both. Generally, symptoms are emotional and physical. Let’s examine them below:
Emotional symptoms of traumatic stress:
- Shock, disbelief, and denial: It’s challenging to come to terms with the incident. You feel detached from your feelings.
- Sadness and grief: You are overwhelmed with sadness, especially if it’s the death of a loved one
- Fear: You are anxious the event will repeat itself.
- Guilt: You blame yourself for the incident. Sometimes, you feel guilty that you survived while others died or were injured.
- Helplessness: You may feel like you can’t control the things happening to you; this may make you anxious and helpless about impending events.
Physical symptoms of traumatic stress:
- Trembling, cold sweats, and feeling overwhelmed
- Dizziness and excessive sweats
- Chest pains, difficulty breathing, and rapid breaths
- Uncontrollable, persistent thoughts
- Memory loss
- Headaches and pains
- Loss of appetite
- Excessive drinking and drugs
How to deal with traumatic events
You can do specific things to recover from traumatic events and gain control of your life. They include:
- Know that there’s no format to how you should feel: People respond differently to disturbing events. So, there’s no one-size-fits-all to how you should respond to the traumatic events you experience.
- Your feelings are valid: Don’t avoid or try to numb your pain because it will prolong the recovery process. Your fear, anxiety, guilt, and paranoia are present, whether you admit them or not. So, the best way to deal with them is to address your feelings head-on. Yes, you are afraid, anxious, and angry, but you won’t feel the same forever because you are on your way to recovery.
- Try not to relive the traumatic event: Although this may be out of your control, try as much as possible not to remember the disturbing events too often. The more you recount the memory, the more overwhelmed, hurt, and anxious you’ll be. So, distract yourself with activities and direct your focus to other things.
- Restructure your routine: Remove or avoid anything that constantly reminds you of the traumatic events. Prevent them altogether if it’s a landmark, road, or place.
- Get busy: Engage your mind with activities that make you happy and fulfilled. Create an exciting routine. Find new hobbies, and pursue your passions.
- Avoid making big life decisions: Making major decisions when anxious and stressed may be a bad idea. The choices you make will come from a place of worry and fear, preventing you from making objective decisions. If you can, try to pause major life decisions till after recovery.
If you want to support your work colleagues who may have experienced trauma, you may consider this Trauma Informed Care course.
Below are strategies to control the impact of traumatic events:
Understand and accept your feelings
The first step to recovery from a traumatic event is to be aware of your emotions. Understand how you feel, and don’t try to ignore or suppress your feelings. Fear, guilt, anger, and shock are common emotions associated with traumatic events, so it’s normal to feel this way. Therefore, acknowledge your feelings, accept them, and move on to recovery.
Challenge your emotions
Accepting your feelings doesn’t mean you should let them control you. So, do things that challenge your negative feelings of guilt and helplessness.
You can do this by:
- Doing things contrary to how you feel: If you feel guilty, and blame yourself for traumatic events, do something that will help you feel better. For example, you can give to the needy, offer help, etc. These actions will help you realize you are not the terrible person you think you are.
- Connecting with others: Your guilt, shame, and anxiety may make you want to isolate yourself. So, do something contrary to this. Connect with your loved ones, and hang out with friends.
The most comfortable thing to do when going through traumatic events is inactivity. However, this won’t contribute positively to your recovery. You may find yourself overthinking and helplessly recounting the events, worsening the situation.
So, get physically and mentally active by introducing interesting activities into your routine. Exercises are great because they release feel-good hormones that elevate your mood. Mindful practices also stimulate your nervous system, helping you feel better.
Here are some suggestions to get active:
- Rhythmic exercises: These types of activities engage your arms and legs. Try running, skipping, swimming, or dancing.
- Mindful activities: Mindfulness helps you control intrusive thoughts and manage anxiety. Examples of mindful activities include meditation, mindful eating, etc.
- Stay motivated: Try to maintain a positive mindset and mood throughout the day. Replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts. Set an uplifting environment with good music and things that make you happy.
Reach out to your support system
Talk to people who can help you feel better. This doesn’t necessarily mean professionals; it could be a loved one you can trust. Surrounding yourself with positive energy can help you move past a traumatic event faster. So, reach out to friends.
Remember, you don’t have to talk about your trauma unless you want. Simply sharing general experiences and creating happy memories with your loved ones can make a huge difference.
Expand your network if it is limited. Go out and meet new people. You can also join support groups, such as community forums, etc.
Contact a professional
Visit a professional if you don’t see notable results with copy mechanisms. If symptoms persist and affect your daily activities and relationships, reach out to a psychological therapist or psychiatrist.
There’s no specific medication for people dealing with traumatic events. However, your physician may recommend medicine if you have depression or sleep difficulties.
The therapy types that may be helpful for traumatic events include:
- Body-focused therapy: This therapy discusses how trauma influences your body and mind. It is founded on the principle that the body and mind are united. It may include touch, breathing, movement techniques, etc.
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR): This involves making rhythmic eye movements while remembering the disturbing event. It encourages you to briefly focus on the trauma’s memory to change how the memory is stored, mitigating the symptoms.
- Trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy: This type of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) focuses on your mental and emotional needs.
- Cognitive analytic therapy (CAT): This therapy examines how past incidents and relationships affect how you behave. It combines techniques from other therapy types to help you deal with traumatic events.
Traumatic events can have a lasting impact on anyone. This article discusses the different ways to recover from difficult situations and how to control their effects. Follow the tips discussed in this article to cope with traumatic events successfully. You can also visit our online portal for more resources on mental health.