Traumatic events can take many forms. They are certainly unexpected and totally jarring. They can happen while you’re:
- Jogging around the neighborhood when a car suddenly spins out of its lane and crashes a few feet away from you.
- Getting home one evening only to feel a cold gun or sharp knife pointed at your side while a stranger takes your belongings.
- Grocery shopping on a weekday with your kids when a huge explosion occurred at some part of the building.
But regardless of what form it takes, being a victim of or a witness to a traumatic event can be life-changing. From accidents and disasters to violent crimes and terrorist attacks, these can leave you understandably shaken and feeling vulnerable in a world that once felt safe. If left unchecked, these feelings can become serious and interfere with your life for months and years to come.
This article shares the basics of traumatic stress and the different techniques, therapies, and tools that can help you overcome a traumatic event.
The Human Response To Traumatic Events
Response to traumatic events can vary. Oftentimes, there’ll be no visible signs. However, one may instead have serious emotional reactions.
Normally, you may feel shocked or in denial after a traumatic event. The body uses these to protect itself from the emotional impact of traumatic occurrences. You’ll feel detached or numb and may not feel the full intensity of what just happened right away.
After the initial shock, which takes about 4-6 weeks, responses can vary. These may include
- Mood swings
- Intense fear and anxiety that the traumatic event may happen again
- Physical symptoms of stress such as headaches
- Isolation and withdrawal from daily activities
- Concentration difficulties
Some people, especially those who experienced extremely traumatic events such as life-threatening situations or witnessing the death of a loved one, may also consequently suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This disorder can last for months or years after a traumatic event and can change your body’s response to stress.
Thus, it’ll require strong social support and professional interventions at treatment centers to help address your mental health needs. Click here to find out more.
How To Overcome Traumatic Stress
Healing from a traumatic event can be overwhelming. However, there are many options, tools, and techniques you can use to help you recover from your normal life and feel better soon enough. Here are some six tips to try.
- Reduce Media Exposure
Although some witnesses or survivors of a traumatic event like terrorism, bank robbery, murders, and disasters can regain a sense of control by watching media coverage of the event, most people find that the reminders can be traumatizing. In fact, excessive exposure to videos and images of the disturbing event and repeatedly viewing videos or posts on social media can even create traumatic stress for those not even directly affected by the event.
If this is the case, then you should try limiting your media exposure to the traumatic event you just experienced. Don’t check social media just before bed or watch the news. Also, refrain from repeatedly watching the disturbing footage.
If you want to stay updated on the event, you can read newspaper reports instead of watching them on TV or social platforms. Take a complete break from the online world or TV news for a few days or weeks until your symptoms are reduced and you’re able to move on. Visual stimuli can be more potent.
- Practice The ‘Window Of Tolerance’
Window of Tolerance or WoT is a technique that allows you to determine and talk about your current mental state. Being inside your specific window means that you’re fine and can function effectively. In contrast, being outside of your window means that you’re triggered and you’re experiencing traumatic stress symptoms.
At first, you’ll have to make a small window with limited capacity in processing and stabilizing yourself when presented with reminders of traumatic events or disturbing information. You’re easily triggered by flashbacks, have high anxiety, are quickly overwhelmed, and are prone to panic or anxiety attacks and emotional shutdown.
As you develop your emotions and learn to stabilize your feelings, you can expand your window, allowing you to increase the capacity to handle the more difficult information, physical sensations, and emotions.
Having an awareness of both the negative and positive states will allow you to identify and practice the necessary techniques and tools to return or stay within your WoT. Also, being able to notify others of the current size of your window can help support you and allow for realistic expectations of what you can handle and what they should do to help you stay within your window.
- Use Relaxation Methods
Relaxation exercises and methods are effective in helping reduce your traumatic stress and anxiety. Here are several methods you can try.
- Deep Breathing
This is a simple, yet powerful relaxation method. To do this, you simply need to take long, deep breaths. As you breathe, disengage your mind from any distracting sensations and thoughts.
Doing deep breathing is helpful for those experiencing a symptom of traumatic stress, allowing them to focus their minds back.
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation
This technique focuses on alternating between relaxing and tensing different muscle groups in your body.
By tensing your muscles, which is a common symptom of anxiety, and relaxing them right away, you can train the body to recognize muscle tension as a signal to relax over time.
With this relaxation technique, you’ll need to form mental images or take a visual journey to a calming or peaceful place or situation. For instance, you can imagine relaxing at the beach, thinking about the sound of crashing waves, the warmth of the sun, or the smell of saltwater.
You’ll need to close your eyes, find a quiet spot to sit on, and concentrate on your breathing and other senses.
Meditation has long been touted as a powerful healer of the mind and one of the fastest ways to reduce stress. During meditation, you focus your mind and attention on the present moment, eliminating the stream of jumbled thoughts that may be causing your stress.
- Yoga, Qigong, Tai Chi
These three ancient arts use rhythmic breathing combined with a series of flowing movements or postures. The physical aspect of these practices provides a strong mental focus which can help distract you from unwanted thoughts. Plus, they can also enhance your balance and flexibility.
That said, if you have a disabling or painful condition or don’t have an active lifestyle, these methods may be too challenging for you. Check with your doctor before trying them out.
- Follow The Psychological First Aid Program
Psychological First Aid or PFA is a research-based approach built on the concept of human resilience. This program aims to reduce stress symptoms and help in healthy recovery after a traumatic event, public health emergency, natural disaster, or a personal crisis.
Originally, PFA was designed to help kids, adults, and families in the aftermath of terrorism or disaster. However, it’s now used to assist people suffering from any type of trauma.
The focus of the PFA method is to provide assistance and support after a traumatic event and to share information about coping strategies and stress reactions. Disaster response workers and mental health providers often provide PFA in the days or weeks following a traumatic incident in diverse settings, including shelters, hospitals, and even over telephone crisis hotlines.
- Build A Social Support System
Several studies have confirmed that getting support from others can help people overcome the damaging impact of traumatic events.
Think about this: Experiencing a traumatic event is like falling into a deep, dark hole. It’s frightening, and you can’t do anything on your own. By building and calling out to your social support system, you can find your way out of this hole.
Whether you turn to your family, friends, or a health professional, it’s better to lean on someone you trust instead of forcing yourself to cope completely on your own.
For starters, these people can serve as a comforting and safe presence. When you’re finally ready to open up and talk, they’ll be there to listen and provide advice that can do wonders for your psychological state.
However, it may not be enough to simply have someone to talk to. There are several aspects to a supportive relationship which is beneficial in helping someone manage their traumatic stress and anxiety. This is why a support group led and managed by a professional is more helpful. This includes the help of a lawyer to ensure that you get the compensation you deserve. You can learn more here about how a lawyer can help you after a traumatic incident.
You can also try connecting with others that were affected by the same traumatic event. Try participating in events, memorials, group support, and other public rituals. It brings you closer and connected to others who share the same tragedy. Also, remembering the lives broken or lost in the event can help you in overcoming a sense of hopelessness.
- Consider Professional Help
As mentioned before, everyone deals with traumatic stress differently. Some people can recover after a traumatic situation with just the support from their family and close friends. Others will need professional help.
Whether your symptoms are getting worse or you experience a recurrence of your symptoms, it’s best to consult an expert. In general, a mental health expert can help you overcome your traumatic stress using various treatments, depending on your symptoms. Some of the common therapy provided are:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
As one of the modalities in addressing trauma, CBT helps you manage behavioral issues by changing the way you think and act. In particular, trauma-focused CBT uses various psychological techniques to help you overcome a traumatic event.
This therapy helps you identify and change disturbing or destructive thought patterns that have a negative influence on your behavior and emotions. It focuses more on changing the automatic negative thoughts which contribute to or worsen your emotional difficulties, anxiety, and depression.
The goal of CBT is to identify, challenge, and replace these negative thoughts with more realistic and objective ones.
- Exposure Therapy
People suffering from PTSD are often reluctant to face any memories of the traumatic event. Thus, they usually avoid any sort of reminder, causing their lives to become constricted. For instance, someone involved in a car accident may start avoiding being in a car or even traveling outside their home. This fear becomes generalized, and they feel like nowhere feels safe anymore. So, their lives will become all about avoiding danger.
Exposure therapy involves assisting patients in slowly confronting their distressing memory of a traumatic event in a safe environment. Exposure may start by simply imagining the event or talking about it. Then, it progresses to confronting aspects of the event in the real world. This could mean simply sitting in the car or taking short drives.
With continued exposure, the fear associated with your traumatic memory will slowly dissipate.
- Eye Movement Desensitization And Reprocessing (EMDR)
Another modality, EMDR is a fairly new and non-traditional type of psychotherapy. It’s a trauma-focused therapy that helps in relieving psychological stress.
The therapy’s operative theory is that traumatic memories, when not processed completely, can cause post-traumatic stress. So, when specific sounds, sights, words, or smells associated with the event manifest, you tend to re-experience the trauma. This re-experiencing results in emotional distress and PTSD.
This type of therapy helps reduce those symptoms by changing how your traumatic memories are stored in your brain. Your therapist will lead you through a series of side-to-side or bilateral eye movements as you trigger or recall the traumatic experience in small segments until those memories stop causing your distress.
As you can see, traumatic stress is more than just a minor annoyance. It’s devastating and can interfere with your daily life. Although symptoms may get better with time, they require attention and coping techniques to navigate your way through and regain control of your life. The techniques discussed are only some of the possibilities. Consult a professional to see which ones could work for you.
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