Trauma touches our lives in many different ways; a serious accident, a physical assault, war, a natural disaster, sexual assault or abuse. It might affect you or those you love. These events can be traumatic as they cause a threat to your safety and/or the safety of others.
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.
Coping after a traumatic event
Everyone will respond in their own unique way to a traumatic event. Some events may have little impact on one person but cause severe distress in another.
Trauma can affect how you feel and think, and your physical wellbeing. This might include strong feelings of fear, sadness, guilt, anger or grief. It can be difficult to think clearly, concentrate or remember details. It might also be difficult to come to terms with what has happened and how it has changed your life, making it difficult to cope with everyday stresses. Your sleep, appetite and social habits can also be affected after experiencing trauma.
After a traumatic event it can be helpful to:
- Understand that it's normal to have strong reactions to a traumatic event. Give yourself some time to recover.
- Express how you feel by talking to someone, writing about it or finding a creative outlet to share your reactions.
- Avoid using drugs or alcohol to cope. They will not help you feel better over time.
- Gradually confront what has happened rather than trying to block it out. Thinking about what has happened can be helpful as you begin to process your experiences. If you begin to dwell on it consider putting some time aside to think about it and then move on to something else.
- Try to maintain your normal routine.
- Look after yourself physically; maintain a healthy diet, get regular exercise and ensure you have enough sleep.
- Talk to your family and friends about what help you need.
- Teach yourself how to relax using techniques such as yoga, breathing or meditation, or do things you enjoy, such as listening to music or gardening.
These normal reactions to trauma gradually settle down over time with the help of family and friends. However, for some people the effects can be long lasting and can lead to the development of difficulties such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
If you're finding it hard to cope with intense feelings or physical reactions following the trauma, it might be helpful to seek professional support. Other reasons for getting help are if you are:
- avoiding reminders of the traumatic experience
- noticing that your feelings of distress are not subsiding after a few weeks
- having difficulty functioning normally in day-to-day life or returning to work, feeling on edge and easily startled, strained relationships with friends and family
- reliving the traumatic experience.
Health professionals can help you to make sense of what has happened. They can help you to find a way to move forward after enduring a significant event in your life.
How family and friends can help
The support of family and friends can play an important role in someone’s recovery from a traumatic event.
- Be willing to talk about the traumatic event if the person finds this helpful.
- Offer support and care without judgment and remember that recovery can take a little while. Provide reassurance that their reactions are normal and that you will support them.
- Understand that they may be irritable, depressed, angry or frightened at times. Try not to take it personally if they express these emotions.
- Encourage them to take good care of themselves by eating well, avoiding alcohol and drugs and by trying to maintain regular sleeping habits.
- Help them to return to their regular routine and activities.
- Be available to listen, spend time with them or provide practical support.
- Encourage them to get professional help if their reactions to the trauma do not appear to be improving.
Find out more about post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).