Written by: Christina Vestey
Traumatic stress reveals itself in different ways. You do not have to experience a traumatic event first hand to suffer from it. A traumatic experience can take us on a roller coaster ride of emotions. It can be enough to witness a traumatic event such as a violent crime, a natural disaster or a horrible accident. Repeated exposure to traumatic events reported on television and on social media such as terrorist attacks, famines, wars, tragedies that happen to innocent people can also trigger traumatic stress. It can leave us feeling anxious, fearful, helpless and with little hope for the future.
With time the intensity of such feelings can settle and one is able to regain a sense of inner calm and strength. There are ways we can help ourselves with this process. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to deal with trauma. Finding someone to talk to who you can trust to discuss your feelings can help you to slowly let go. It is a process and will most likely not go away over-night. In the beginning, it may feel too difficult because the feelings of intense pain and hurt and confusion make it hard to put one’s feelings into words. However, allowing your self to feel and not ignore the emotions that come up actually helps to reduce the intensity of a traumatic experience and allows the process of healing to take place.
Signs and symptoms of traumatic stress are very normal and may vary. These can occur after experiencing a traumatic event, or having witnessed one . These can include feeling scared, anxious, sad and fearful of what the future holds or even disconnected from the world around you and numb. Helpguide.org gives a list of possible reactions after a traumatic event.
Shock: one is unable to emotionally digest what has actually occurred. A sense of utter disbelief
Fear: of one’s safety, of the future, the uncertainty of life and that it may happen again
Sadness: For what you feel you have lost and also that life will never be the same.
Helpless: Feeling you are unable to change the situation; that it is stronger and more powerful than you.
Guilt: that had you reacted differently the event may not have occurred or that you may have survived a tragedy and others didn’t.
Anger: towards those who you feel are responsible. It may be towards God who you feel has caused such suffering.
Shame: that what happened to you is culturally or socially shameful. You may feel that had you behaved differently it would not have happened.
Relief: feeling that you have experienced the worst and there is a future ahead.
These emotional reactions to trauma mostly come hand in hand with physical reactions which can make the situation feel even more alarming. Knowing what is normal to experience can take away some of the fear of what one is going through;
Trembling and shaking
Heart beating very fast
Difficulty catching one’s breath
Lump in the throat as if one is choked up
Feeling Sweaty or chills – can be both
Needing to fidget continuously and distract one self physically
Stomach tightening or churning.
Dizziness and feeling faint and drained of all energy
Feelings of being physically numb
Racing thoughts – unable to fix on one thought
Needing to hold one self.
Whilst these symptoms are normal directly after experiencing a traumatic event they normally subside over days or possibly weeks. However, if the nervous system is overwhelmed by a traumatic event and unable to process the emotions it can get ’stuck’ and this can lead to post traumatic stress syndrome, which is when seeking professional help is in order. Even if you are not sure you are traumatized having a support system of some sort can be beneficial for future traumas and dealing with deeply embedded trauma.