When something happens that is distressing, unexpected and affects us and/or the people we are close to, most people will experience a reaction that can be unpleasant, disturbing and potentially overwhelming. In the majority of cases, this reaction will subside over time as we gradually come to terms with the experience and its effects.
Understanding this reaction and how we can help ourselves at such a difficult time means that we are more likely to recover quickly and fully. It also helps us to get professional help at any early stage when this recovery is hampered, for whatever reason.
It is important to remember that Post Traumatic Stress is a natural reaction to an abnormal event.
You may feel particularly vulnerable if you
- Were very close to the person or situation
- Have suffered other losses or bereavement recently, or unresolved ones in the past
- Are already stressed, anxious or depressed
- Can identify with the person or situation, for example the person is/was the same age as yourself or a significant other
Common reactions can include
How we think and feel:
- Feeling tearful, anxious, depressed, helpless, angry or numb, having intrusive thoughts and images
- Sleep disturbances, nightmares, sweats, poor concentration, trembling, headaches, digestive complaints and skin rashes
How we behave:
- Avoiding anything to do with the event or conversely compulsively looking for reminders, withdrawing from relationships, increasing the use of alcohol and cigarettes or any significant change in usual behaviour
All of these reactions are normal (even though they may not feel it!) and, short term, will not cause lasting harm. It is important to give yourself time to recover and accept that you may not be as efficient and effective as normal. Traumatic events can cause a great deal of shock – then emotional disturbance that may take time to subside.
Some people worry that they are not reacting the same as those around them. They may feel that they are being insensitive or uncaring. It is vital to remember that we are all affected by different things at different times in our lives. It doesn’t mean we are less caring as human beings. If this concerns you, perhaps see it as an opportunity to offer support or practical help to those who need it while you are comparatively calm and objective.