Trauma and tips for coping

What is a traumatic event?

Most of us at some point in our lives will experience a sudden, terrible, overwhelming event. The event or our reactions to it are called a trauma. Examples of such events include an unexpected death or near-death, an automobile or other accident, a disaster such as a fire or earthquake, a physical or sexual assault or other act of violence, a sudden loss, or the onset of a significant illness. The event might occur to us or to someone we know or care about, or it might be something we witness. Ongoing, chronic experiences of abuse or neglect sometimes produce complex trauma, which may include any or all of the following symptoms, as well as other cognitive, physical, and emotional outcomes.

What are common reactions?

Everyone reacts differently to a traumatic event. We are shocked by it, and it can shake us to our foundations. The following are some common and normal reactions:

Physical Reactions

  • fatigue
  • changes in sleeping patterns
  • changes in eating patterns
  • changes in other activities
  • digestion problems or stomachaches
  • headaches or dizziness
  • physical tension, shakiness, weakness

Cognitive Reaction

  • difficulty concentrating
  • difficulty making decisions
  • flashbacks or preoccupation with the event
  • memory disturbances
  • a sense that things aren’t real
  • denial of the pain
  • shock

Emotional Reactions

  • helplessness or meaninglessness
  • numbness or hypersensitivity
  • fear, panic, feeling unsafe
  • moodiness, crying, or depression
  • anger or guilt
  • isolation from other people
  • feeling that your thoughts or emotions are out of control
  • neediness, not wanting to be alone

How can I cope?

  • Talking about the event and listening to others talk about it are important ways of understanding and making sense of what happened. Find a context in which you are comfortable – one-to-one, with a group, or writing in a journal or a letter to a friend.
  • As much as you can, continue your usual routines. It may feel meaningless or uncomfortable, because “normal” life may not feel so normal anymore. But walk through your usual activities as well as you can. Structure in your routine may help.
  • Allow yourself time to react to the event however you need to. If you need some time alone, take it. If you need to cry, go ahead. If you need company, seek it out.
  • Mental or physical activity can be very healing: try taking a walk, exercising, writing in a journal, or reading.
  • Be aware of and avoid urges to numb your pain with drugs or alcohol. If you are taking a prescription medication, continue to follow the usual instructions and contact your doctor if you feel a change is in order.
  • If you are troubled by any of your physical, cognitive, or emotional reactions, or they do not begin to ease after several weeks, tell someone. A parent, counselor, or advisor can support you in your efforts to cope.

If you would like to consult with a counselor, contact CAPS today.