Understanding Trauma

An individual's response to trauma will vary depending on several factors, including closeness to the scene of the disaster, degree of exposure, extent of their losses, and previous traumatic experiences. Stress reactions will usually diminish with the passage of time, the ability to talk about the event, and the support of family and friends. (University of Minnesota - Understanding Traumatic Stress Reactions)

Some common stress reactions include:

  • Confusion
  • Sadness
  • Fear
  • Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
  • Sleep problems
  • Physical pain
  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Grief
  • Shock
  • Aggressiveness
  • Withdrawal
  • Guilt
  • Shaken religious faith
  • Loss of confidence in self or others
  • Distraction and inability to stop thinking about what happened

Some pre-disaster conditions, such as family situation, economic status, or disability, might affect how people respond to trauma or the resources available for recovery.

Traumatic Stress may occur when a person has experienced, witnessed or been confronted with an event (s), that involves that person to be threatened or face actual death or serious injury or is faced with an actual threat to bodily integrity to themselves or others, and the person responds with a overwhelming feeling of fear, helplessness or horror. (Please note - for the sake of simplicity,  the above definition has been taken from the DSMIV and not the latest DSMV)

So I survived... what next?

Sometimes after we have experienced something that is life threatening or traumatic, our bodies may react in ways that we don’t always understand. Some of the anxiety after such an experience can be reduced by knowing what is going on in your body and mind and what to expect. When you are exposed to a traumatic event, your body may react in order to help you survive.

Some of these reactions may be:

  • Adrenaline released into the bloodstream, helping your body ready to react quicker
  • Your senses are more sensitive to your surroundings
  • Blood is channelled from digestive organs and skin
  • Glucose is released into the blood, to provide enough energy to react
  • More blood is available to the big muscle groups to help you flee or fight
  • More oxygen is transported to the  brain so that you can process incoming information faster

Immediately fter the event, these reactions may leave you exhausted (even if you didn’t flee or fight), feeling nauseous or shivering.

Here are some of the reactions that may occur over the next few weeks:

  • Upsetting memories
  • Images and feeling as if the event is happening again
  • Bad dreams and nightmares
  • Getting upset when something you smell, see, feel, hear or taste reminds you of the trauma
  • Feeling in danger again
  • Anger or aggression
  • Trouble controlling your emotions
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Mind feels “foggy”
  • Trouble remembering important parts of the event
  • Trying to avoid conversations, places or people that remind you of the event
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Things around you seem strange or unreal
  • Feel strange or “not yourself”
  • Feel disconnected from the world
  • Trouble falling or staying asleep
  • Constantly on the lookout for danger
  • Startled by loud noises or people coming up behind you
  • Feel shaky and sweaty
  • Heart pounding or trouble breathing
  • Feel physically numb
  • Not interested in things you used to enjoy

 When a child has experienced a traumatic event, he or she may express it in the following ways:

  • Repeated games where some aspect of the event is present
  • Bad dreams, with or without elements of the event present
  • Do things the child did when she or he was younger, like bedwetting or sucking fingers.

 What do I do now?

  • Follow a healthy diet to help your body deal with all the reactions. Eat food that helps to stabilize your blood sugar level (low GI foods, fruit, vegetables, water, tea)
  • Do exercise to help relax muscles. When you exercise your body releases endorphins, and that makes you feel happier.
  • Get enough rest and sleep. If you have trouble sleeping, consult your general practitioner to prescribe a sleeping tablet. Do NOT use excessive alcohol or drugs.
  • Spend time with loved ones and friends.
  • Take the time to do things that you used to enjoy.
  • Watch a good comedy.
  • Share information with your friends and family to help them understand what you are going through and what they might be going through.

Although the above information is provided to assist you during this process, it cannot replace sound medical advice from a health care professional. Please consider going to a qualified mental health practitioner, registered trauma counsellor or psychologist for further assistance, or feel free to contact us for more information, for free counselling (Ekhurhuleni area only) on what to expect or just to talk to someone about your concerns

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