Trauma & PTSD
What is a traumatic event?
A traumatic event occurs when a person is in a situation where there is a risk of harm or danger to themselves or other people. Situations like this are usually frightening or cause a lot of stress. In such situations, people feel helpless.
Examples of traumatic events:
- Serious accidents
- Being told you have a life-threatening illness
- Violent personal assault, such as a physical attack, sexual assault, robbery, or mugging
- Military combat
- Natural or man-made disasters
- Terrorist attack
- Being taken hostage
- Being a prisoner of war
- Anything that one perceives as life threatening
What happens immediately after trauma?
Immediately after a traumatic event, it is common for people to feel shocked, when in shock you feel:
- stunned or dazed or numb
- cut off from your feelings, or from what is going on around you.
What happens next?
People react differently and take different amounts of time to come to terms with what has happened. You may feel:
- Ashamed or embarrassed
Strong feelings affect your physical health. In the weeks after a trauma, you may find that you:
- Cannot sleep
- Feel very tired
- Dream a lot and have nightmares
- Have poor concentration
- Have memory problems
- Have difficulty thinking clearly
- Suffer from headaches
- Experience changes in appetite
- Experience changes in sex-drive or libido
- Have aches and pains
What should you do?
- Give yourself time
- Find out what happened
- Be involved with other survivors
- Ask for support
- Take some time for yourself
- Talk it over
- Get into a routine
- Self care
What should you not do?
- Don’t bottle up your feelings
- Don’t take on too much
- Don’t drink or use drugs
- Don’t make any major life changes
What is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?
After traumatic event most people feel distressed and can have symptoms for some time. But sometimes, the acute reaction doesn’t go away and you can develop a more severe condition that we call Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. The condition can also be triggered by longer-lasting traumas, such as on-going mistreatment, and physical or sexual abuse in the home.
How does PTSD feel?
- Re-experiencing the trauma through vivid and distressing memories or dreams – have flashbacks and nightmares
- Avoiding situations that remind them of the traumatic event
- Feeling numb, as though they don’t have the same range of feelings as normal
- Being in a state of ‘alertness’ – watching out for danger stay alert all the time, can’t relax, feel anxious and can’t sleep
- Get physical symptoms – aches and pains, diarrhea, irregular heartbeats, headaches, feelings of panic and fear, depression
- Start drinking too much alcohol or using drugs (including painkillers).
What could help?
- Seek help and support – from professionals, friends and family.
- Try to get back to your usual routine.
- Talk about what happened to someone you trust and try relaxation exercises.
- Eat regularly, take exercise and spend time with family and friends.
- Try not to avoid other people.
- Try not to resort to alcohol or street drugs to help you cope.
- Body-focused therapies, such as physiotherapy and osteopathy, massage, acupuncture, reflexology, yoga, medication and Tai Chi.
- Don’t be hard on yourself or expect too much of yourself. PTSD is not a sign of weakness. The strongest person can get it.
Evidenced-based therapies: Eye movement desensitization & reprocessing (EMDR), Trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT), Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)