YOU may have had one or many upsetting, frightening, or traumatic things happen to you in your life, or that threatened or hurt something you love, even your community.
When these kinds of things happen, you may not “get over” them quickly. In fact, you may feel the effects of these traumas for many years, even for the rest of your life. Sometimes you don’t even notice effects right after the trauma happens. Years later you may begin having thoughts, nightmares, and other disturbing symptoms.
If you’ve experienced these extremely stressful or disturbing event that’s left you feeling helpless and emotionally out of control, you may have been traumatised. Trauma can leave you struggling with upsetting emotions, memories, and anxiety that won’t go away. It can also leave you feeling numb, disconnected, and unable to trust people.
When bad things happen, it can take a while to get over the pain and feel safe again to move on with your life. Dealing with a traumatic event can be very difficult, as these events can often overwhelm us, and reduce our ability to cope with the stress they cause.
It’s not the objective circumstances that determine whether an event is traumatic, but your subjective emotional experience of the event. The more frightened and helpless you feel, the more likely you are to be traumatised.
Trauma can be caused by events such as an accident, injury, or a violent attack, especially if it was unexpected or happened in childhood as well as bullying, domestic violence, childhood neglect, sudden death of someone close, the breakup of a significant relationship, or a humiliating or deeply disappointing experience.
While traumatic events can happen to anyone, you’re more likely to be traumatised by an event if you’re already under a heavy stress load, have recently suffered a series of losses, or have been traumatised before especially if the earlier trauma occurred in childhood.
Childhood trauma can result from anything that disrupts a child’s sense of safety, including: an unstable environment, separation from a parent, serious illness, sexual, physical and verbal abuse and neglect among others. Experiencing trauma in childhood can result in a severe and long-lasting effect.
When childhood trauma is not resolved, a sense of fear and helplessness carries over into adulthood, setting the stage for further trauma. However, even if your trauma happened many years ago, there are steps you can take to overcome the pain, learn to trust and connect to others again, and regain your sense of emotional balance.
People respond to experiences differently. Response to trauma may be embodied by an acute stress reaction, which is a short-lived condition that develops following a traumatic event. The symptoms begin within minutes of the traumatic event and can disappear within hours, days, or weeks.
Alternatively, they may develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is a long-lasting anxiety response following a traumatic or catastrophic event. If symptoms last more than a month and become severe enough to interfere with relationships or work, it may be a sign of PTSD.
All sorts of trauma that happen during one’s life can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder. How you react when something traumatic happens, and shortly afterward, can help or delay your recovery. It’s important to have a coping strategy for getting through the bad feelings of a traumatic event.
We all react to trauma in different ways, experiencing a wide range of physical and emotional reactions. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to think, feel, or respond, so don’t judge your own reactions or those of other people. Your responses are normal reactions to abnormal events.
Normal reactions include; shock, denial, or disbelief, confusion, difficulty concentrating, anger, irritability, mood swings, anxiety and fear, accompanied with guilt, shame, self-blame, withdrawing from others, feeling sad or hopeless and disconnected.
Physical symptoms include: insomnia or nightmares, fatigue, being startled easily, difficulty concentrating, racing heartbeat, edginess, agitation, aches and pains with muscle tension When a loved one has suffered trauma, your support plays a crucial role in their recovery. Exercise patience and understanding since healing from trauma takes time.
Don’t judge your loved one’s reaction against your own response or anyone else’s. Offer practical support to help your loved one get back into a normal routine. Don’t pressure them into talking but be available if they want to talk since some trauma survivors find it difficult to talk about what happened.
Also, help them to socialise and relax by encouraging them to participate in physical exercise, and other activities that bring them pleasure. And lastly don’t take the trauma symptoms personally since they may become angry, irritable, withdrawn, or emotionally distant.
Remember that this is a result of the trauma and may not have anything to do with you or your relationship. Individual strategies of coping with symptoms of trauma include getting some help to make one safe. Talk with someone you trust about what happened since support and understanding at a difficult time can be very helpful.
You don’t have to face it alone, know that how you are feeling is very normal for someone who has been through a traumatic event, and so give yourself time. Understand that by dealing with the fears and thoughts, you will be able to get on with life. Remember not to use drugs and alcohol to cope since they will only make it worse.
Note that recovering from trauma takes time, and everyone heals at their own pace. But if months have passed and your symptoms aren’t letting up, you may need professional help from an expert. Always keep in mind that there are many people who have had traumatic things happen to them and have worked to relieve the traumatic symptoms.
They have also gone on to lead happy and rewarding lives. You can too! Remember, a happy life leads to a happy nation. The Author, Racheal Masibo, is an Assistant Lecturer at St John’s University of Tanzania (SJUT)-School of Nursing, P.O BOX 47 Dodoma Tanzania.
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