Trauma and traumatic life events - how to deal with it

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Here’s how to tell if you have suffered a traumatic life event

Not sure if you have encountered a traumatic experience? We have some signs that can help you determine your diagnosis and act from there.

Trauma and traumatic life events - how to deal with it

Image via Adobe Stock

Many of us have encountered some difficult situations and we tend to put it down as nothing more than that. However, sometimes these experiences can have a greater impact on us, leading to worrying cases of trauma.

Before we can decide whether we have stumbled upon a traumatic experience or not, we have to define trauma. If you find that you are traumatised, we’ve got the tips to help you kick it to the curb and regain your mental health

What is trauma?  

The word trauma by definition is a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. 

According to ER24 and a trauma support team, a traumatic event is an incident that causes physical, emotional, spiritual or psychological harm. The person experiencing the distressing event may feel threatened, anxious or frightened as a result. The person will need support and time to recover from the traumatic event and regain emotional and mental stability.

Traumatic events include but are not limited to:

  • A threat to the personal beliefs of oneself or others;                                     
  • Domestic or family violence, dating violence;
  • Community violence (shooting, mugging, burglary, assault, bullying);
  • Sexual or physical abuse;
  • Natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, fires or earthquakes;
  • A serious car accident;
  • Sudden unexpected or violent death of someone close (suicide, accident);
  • Serious injury to self or others (burns, dog attack);
  • Major surgery or life-threatening illness (cancer);
  • War or political violence (civil war, terrorism, refugee);
  • Gender-based violence.

How to tell if you are traumatised 

Dealing with a disturbing or traumatic event can sometimes be difficult. Traumatic events often overwhelm us and reduce our ability to cope with stress. Added to this is the unwanted attachment to our heart, reminding us of the traumatic incident or event and the accompanying responses. It is important to remember that everyone deals with and experiences trauma differently. 

Signs and symptoms after trauma:

  • Distressed and overwhelmed; 
  • Shocked;
  • Numb;
  • Unable to accept what has happened; 
  • Denial;
  • Frightened that the same thing will happen again, or that you might lose control of your emotions and break down;
  • Helpless that something really bad happened and you could do nothing about it;
  • Angry about what has happened and with whoever was responsible;
  • Guilty that you have survived when others have suffered or died;
  • Sad particularly if people were injured or killed, especially someone you knew;
  • Ashamed or embarrassed that you have these strong feelings you can’t control; 
  • Relieved that the danger is over and that the danger has gone;
  • Hopeful that your life will return to normal. People can start to feel more positive about things quite soon after a trauma.

Feelings that could affect your physical health after trauma 

Strong feelings affect your physical health. In the weeks after a trauma, you may find that you have:

  • Sleeping problems;
  • Feel very tired, sad and lonely;
  • Dream a lot and have nightmares;
  • Have poor concentration;
  • Have memory problems;
  • Have difficulty thinking clearly – preoccupation with thinking about the trauma;
  • Physical symptoms such as tense muscles, trembling or shaking, nausea, headaches, sweating, and tiredness;
  • Experience changes in appetite;
  • Experience changes in sex-drive or libido;
  • Feel that your heart is beating faster;
  • Flashbacks where images of the traumatic event come into your mind suddenly for no apparent reason, or where you mentally re-experience the event;
  • Being easily startled by loud noises or sudden movements.

Here’s how you can overcome a traumatic experience

It takes time – weeks or months – to accept what has happened and to learn to live with it. You may need to grieve for what (or who) you have lost. Here are some tips that can lead to healing.

  • Take some time for yourself

At times you may want to be alone or just with those close to you. Also try to do things which you normally enjoy, for instance; relax, go for walks or see friends.

  • Talk it over and process your feelings

Allow yourself think about the trauma and talk about it with others. Don’t worry if you cry when you talk; it’s natural and usually helpful. It is important to put words to your experience. Whether you write in a journal, talk to a good friend, or consult a therapist.

  • Get into a routine

Even if you don’t feel much like eating, try to have regular meals and to eat a balanced diet. Taking some exercise can help – but start gently.

  • Seek Help When Needed

Be sure you’re getting the support you need, even if you have no major problems but feel that it might be a good idea to talk to someone, it’s better to put words to your experience. It’s a smart and responsible way to take care of yourself.

Here’s what you shouldn’t do following a traumatic experience

  • Don’t bottle up your feelings;
  • Don’t take on too much;
  • Don’t drink alcohol or use drugs;
  • Don’t make any major life changes;
  • Try to put off any big decisions.