Many people still think of post-traumatic stress as resulting from some major catastrophic incident, like an armed conflict or an earthquake. In fact most cases come about from deeply distressing incidents that any one of us might experience. Whether it’s a fire, a death, a traffic accident or something else, the scale of the event is beside the point. What really matters is the effect this has on the individual. In this Sharepost I’m looking at the effects of trauma, the ways in which feelings, physical sensations and behavior may be affected and some ways we try to make sense of traumatic experiences.
Traumatic experiences tend to come out of the blue. Their effects are shocking, outside of our normal everyday experiences and expectations, and they can often leave us feeling incapable as we struggle to find ways to cope and behave. Depending on the circumstances we may learn things about ourselves we don’t like therefore questions arise. Could we have been more helpful, less self-centered, and less afraid? Equally, the event may have revealed the randomness and vulnerabilities of life. People around us may have suffered or died. We are shocked, we can’t make the necessary mental adjustments so for the time being we may behave as if nothing is happened, or we may lapse into a stunned dream-like state.
People react differently to trauma but some experiences are more commonplace. Emotions are stirred and sufferers will often describe feeling more anxious and uptight. While feelings of tension, depression or even anger can rise to the surface, so can woozy and detached emotions, as though living through a dream. Tensions and anxieties lead to physical symptoms too. Muscle tension, upset stomach, fatigue and palpitations are some of the features. There may also be noticeable changes in behavior. Inability to relax, irritability, avoidance of social contact and existing relationships may come under strain. Smoking and drinking may also increase.
Some of the more known symptoms of post-traumatic stress involve the effects on the mind. Constant worry, inability to concentrate, guilt, shame, problems sleeping and nightmares once sleep occurs are commonplace. Decision-making suffers as thoughts become jumpy and flashbacks of the trauma continue to intrude.
Our lives are generally based around relatively safe and predictable modes of behavior. When things occur outside our normal experience we find ways to process the information and to categorize it within our existing thought processes. Trauma tends to extend outside these boundaries so making sense of what happened is a good way of regaining some level of mastery and comprehension over the event.
Trying to avoid the event doesn’t really help. It may bring about a level of relief or escape but the situation is never really resolved. Information is really useful. Finding out as much information as you can about an event helps to plug gaps in understanding and is one step on the road to recovery. Other victims, bystanders or helpers, can sometimes help put pieces together. It also provides a shared experience and a good level of support. Groups are often set up following larger trauma events and quite often a website or forum is available. Writing can be tremendously helpful as can seeking help from trauma counselors.
In my next post I’ll be considering ways of coping with flashbacks, irritable moods and ways to overcome low moods and avoidance.
Published On: May 24, 2013