Understanding trauma, what are the symptoms and when to get support.

Beyond Blue tells us that in Australia, the most common traumatic events are having someone close die unexpectedly, seeing someone badly injured or killed, unexpectedly seeing a dead body, or being in a life-threatening car accident. However, trauma can touch our lives in many different ways; like a serious accident, a physical assault, war, a natural disaster, sexual assault or abuse. These events can be traumatic as they cause a threat to our safety and/or the safety of others.

So, what is trauma? Trauma is the experience of severe psychological distress of an individual following an event or series of events that are terrible or life-threatening. It overwhelms the individual’s ability to cope. Trauma can affect how you feel and think, and your physical wellbeing. A person suffering from trauma may develop extreme emotional disturbances such as sadness, anger, anxiety, survivors’ guilt and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Other experiences can be ongoing problems with physical pain or sleep, feeling a diminished sense of self-worth due to the weight of overwhelming stress. It could be difficulty remembering details or concentrating, change in appetite and turbulence in personal and professional relationships can be symptoms of trauma. While these normal reactions to trauma they gradually settle down over time with the help of a sound support system, however, take note that in some cases the effects can be long-lasting and can develop into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

After a traumatic event, it can be helpful to:

  • Talk about how you feel
  • Ask for the help that you need
  • Try and maintain your regular routine
  • Write a letter or find a creative outlet to express how you are feeling
  • Give yourself time to recover as it’s normal to have strong reactions to a traumatic event
  • Physically take care of yourself by eating healthy foods, get regular exercise and enough sleep
  • Avoid using drugs or alcohol to cope
  • Gradually confront what has happened rather than blocking it out. However, if you find yourself dwelling on what has occurred move onto something else
  • Practice self-care

If someone you know is experiencing trauma, here are a few things that you can do to support them:

  • Be available to listen and spend time with them
  • Offer support without judgment
  • Reassure them that their reactions are normal
  • Encourage them to take care of themselves
  • Provide practical support
  • If their reactions to the trauma do not appear to be improving encourage them to get professional help

On a finishing note, if you or someone you know is finding it hard to cope with intense feelings or physical reactions following a traumatic event, it might be helpful to seek professional support. Some things to look out for are having difficulty functioning in typical day to day activities and returning to work, feeling on edge, strained relationships, noticing no improvement in distressed emotions after a few weeks, avoiding reminders of the traumatic event or reliving the experience. Health professionals can help to make sense of what has happened and come alongside to find a way to move forward after enduring a significant event.