Trauma and Surviving a Crisis
Trauma is a word that is used often and something that not everyone may fully understand. Trauma usually refers to “any situation that causes a person to experience stress so extreme that it overwhelms his or her natural ability to cope and may have long lasting psychological effects”.
Trauma reactions are our immediate responses to a traumatic event. Trauma reactions may vary from person to person. Immediate reactions often include being anxious or nervous, feeling numb (still in shock), anger, guilt, hypervigilance, sleep difficulties, loss of appetite, and physical reactions such as headaches, stomach aches, muscle cramping, or nausea.
Trauma survivors often think they are moving through the crisis in a good and healthy way only to begin having difficulties and reactions later. Post-trauma refers to these reactions.
Post-trauma reactions can include nervousness when in a similar situation to where or how the trauma occurred, increased startle reaction, lack of concentration, increased fatigue, continued sleep disturbance, continued appetite loss, irritability, moodiness, obsessing about the incident, and anger. The reactions may not have started when the incident happened but may present themselves anywhere from the first hours following to years later.
Many people who have experienced extreme traumatic events such as a car accident, war, rape or childhood abuse can be “triggered” back into a flight, flight or freeze mode (a physiological response to perceived danger that activates the mind and body to defend or to flee) without even realizing it.
Children and adults may exhibit different symptoms or a variation of those listed. It is important to understand that we must work at restabilizing as quickly as possible after a trauma, so we can return to our previous level of functioning.
Some reaction to trauma is normal and whether the trauma was two weeks ago or three years ago, it is important to accept that fact. What you experienced was not a normal situation and your reactions are temporary to that situation.
If the trauma was fairly recent, there are several acts you can take to help your recovery: talk to your support system, including a therapist. Maintain your routine if possible, make it a priority to spend time with friends and family although the desire to isolate may seem more appealing. Sleep, exercise, and eating healthy are also helpful, as we tend to neglect the physical parts when we hurt inside. Use relaxation techniques, take care of spiritual and emotional needs, and focus on the future and what is hopeful and expectant.
It makes sense to restablilze after a trauma and get back to normal life to help feel safe and comfortable but if emotions and reactions to the trauma start to surface later, take a deep breath and try to do your best to explore the reactions. This process can sometimes feel very overwhelming. An experienced therapist knowledgeable about trauma can help aid in this process by guiding you gently through the wreckage and pull you back if you start to get overwhelmed.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is also a very useful tool. It is a powerful therapy modality that removes the strong feelings and negative beliefs that develop as a result of a painful event. It is used in trauma work and has been found to work in just a few sessions to decrease trauma symptoms, significantly allowing the person to overcome his suffering due to trauma.
If there are unresolved emotions around the original trauma, the unhealthy survival skills can haunt the survivor. This sometimes leads to post-traumatic stress disorder.
During a traumatic event, people will resort to extreme coping skills to survive. If faced with similar stressors or “triggers”, survivors may sometimes unconsciously resort to the same coping skills that helped them survive the original trauma.
For example: If a person who experienced childhood abuse by a grandfather who often drank whiskey smells whiskey as a grown adult, years after the abuse, he may unexpectedly get “triggered” and react in sometimes subtle but damaging ways. He may have “zoned-out” as a child or experienced a disconnect with his feelings and as a response to this stressor, entered the same “dream-like fog” without even realizing he was triggered. Or he may experience uncomfortable intense feelings after smelling the whiskey and in an attempt to cope with the internal “perceived trauma” may over-drink or participate in high-stakes adolescent behavior as way of automatically regressing or perhaps as a way to distract oneself momentarily. The reactions to triggers vary from person to person and do not have to be so extreme. A person may also feel a little tearful and anxious for a while and have a hard time sleeping without understanding why.
The trigger can be from any facet and the reactions vary from person-to-person. It is often very easy to pass the symptom off as something else and not realize that a person has been triggered. It is helpful to be able to identify that this is what is happening and what your personal triggers may be as well as your reactions.
In order to identify this, it helps to explore the event and may be beneficial to journal or talk to a therapist about what your coping skills were during the trauma. And then, and when it feels manageable, you can explore descriptions of the environment during the trauma, the smell, the season, the sounds and all of the details that may be the “land-mines” of triggers scattered about. However, if this feels too overwhelming, EMDR may be a great treatment modality to help.
The coping skills that are taking over may have aided in surviving the event initially but when they continue and become long-term coping skills, they can begin to negatively impact life.
Although the triggers and the stressors appear and feel like haunting effects of the trauma, it is the unresolved feelings under it that are the ghosts that haunt and truly need to be addressed. It’s the part of the trauma that eats away at a survivor. View the triggers/stressors as opportunities to explore feelings that were too much to deal with before and an opportunity to lay down the heavy load of hurt that may still be causing havoc on present day life.
Tags: surviving a crisis, trauma, trauma care, trauma reactions, triggered
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner
Licensed Professional Counselor
Advanced Clinical HypnoTherapist
- Deb England began working part-time for Wholeness Healing Center in September 2004 and began full-time in May 2005. Deb practices primarily in the Broken Bow office and one day a week in the Grand Island office. Previously she had completed her practicum and internship at Morning Star Alliance, working in the Broken Bow and Grand Island offices.
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