Psychological trauma is the result of a severely distressing event or series of events that exceeds a person’s ability to cope or integrate the emotions involved with that experience. Examples of traumatic events include experiencing an accident, dealing with the repercussions of a natural disaster, or being the victim of abuse.

Trauma is a personal response. Different people may react in different ways to the same incident. Some may experience certain trauma symptoms, while others may not.

Reactions To Traumatic Incidents

There are a variety of responses that you might experience while suffering from trauma. These reactions may be felt not only by the people who directly experience traumatic incidents, but also by those who have witnessed such events as well as people who have been involved with those who were directly affected. The reactions may appear immediatly, or they may take years to surface. Many reactions can be triggered by persons, places, or things associated with the what happened, but some responses may appear seemingly independent.

Here is a list of common reactions to traumatic incidents:

  • Fatigue/exhaustion
  • Underactivity/overactivity
  • Change in appetite
  • Digestive problems
  • Nightmares
  • Muscle tremors/twitches
  • Headaches
  • Nausea/dizziness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Withdrawal from friends
  • Inability to rest
  • Decreased or increased appetite
  • Hyper alertness to the environment
  • Increased alcohol consumption
  • Increased arguments
  • Increased startle response
  • Change in social activity
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty solving problems
  • Flashback of the event
  • Lowered attention span
  • Violent fantasies
  • Confusion
  • Heightened/lowered alertness
  • Guilt
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Emotional numbing
  • Oversensitivity
  • Fear/anxiety
  • Sense of hopelessness
  • Feelings of blame
  • Anger/irritability
  • Moodiness

Some individuals who experience traumatic events may experience periods of time where they have flashes of images, sites, sounds, or reactions as if they are reliving portions of the traumatic event. It is important to know how to cope with flashbacks.

It's important to remember that these are NORMAL reactions to abnormal and tragic situations. While painful, they are part of the recovery process. There is little anyone can do to take away these uncomfortable feelings, but there are several things you can do to help your recovery.

Strategies For Self-Care

If you experience intense emotions or uncomfortable physiological reactions, make sure to try different grounding techniques to help self-soothe.

You may get through this period with the help and support of your family and friends. However, some people in your life may encourage or demand that you "get over it" before you're ready. Let them know that isn’t helpful and what you need instead is help, support, understanding, and opportunities to talk.

Continue to remind yourself that your responses are normal responses to a stressful situation. Give yourself permission to do whatever you need to do to take care of yourself. Your body and mind will tell you what you need to do—your job is to listen to them.

Recovering From Trauma

People who recover from trauma may discover unexpected benefits. As they heal their wounds, survivors find that they also develop inner strength, compassion for others, and increased self-awareness.

It is important to remember, however, that recovering from trauma is a process that can take a longer than most people expect. It could be weeks, months, or in some cases, years before you fully regain balance and a sense of stability. While it is impossible to predict how long you might experience effects of the trauma, these reactions do usually decrease over time. Note that if you experience another stressful event while recovering from trauma, your reactions may reappear for a while, but this reoccurrence is perfectly normal.

At any time during this process, you may find it useful to seek help from a mental health clinician. There are some circumstances under which you should definitely get professional help:

  • if you find yourself feeling suicidal or contemplating suicide
  • if you find that your daily functioning continues to be impaired so that you cannot carry out your life tasks
  • if post-trauma fears interfere with your ability to return to certain places or situations that remind you of the trauma

If you want to talk with a clinician or consult about a friend who needs additional support, come to the Counseling Center during our walk-in hours (M-F, 10-3), or call us at 540-568-6552.

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