Dealing with Traumatic Stress
Any kind of distressing event – from a global health crisis like COVID-19 to a personal tragedy – can take an emotional toll on our mental health and cause traumatic stress.
It’s normal to experience stress after experiencing a disturbing or abnormal event. You may feel confusion, fear, intense shock or you may even feel emotionally numb and overwhelmed – sometimes all at once. Traumatic stress can damage your sense of security and leave you feeling vulnerable and helpless. You may also feel overcome with grief, emotionally drained and struggle to concentrate and get a restful night’s sleep.
Generally, unsettling feelings – along with any unpleasant physical symptoms that come with stress and trauma – should begin to fade as your life slowly returns to normal over the coming weeks or months following the crisis. That said, there is a lot that you can do to help speed up your recovery and come to terms with the trauma that you’ve been though to help calm your nervous system and regain your emotional balance.
Signs you are dealing with trauma
Regardless whether the traumatic situation directly impacted you or not, your nervous system can become flooded with stress which can cause a wide variety of physical symptoms and intense emotions. These may range from mild to severe and you may find that they come and go in waves.
Emotional symptoms of trauma include:
Disbelief and shock – you may feel emotionally disconnected and numb and have a hard time accepting what has happened.
Worry – you may fear that the same event will happen to you again and you may begin to feel anxious about leaving your home.
Grief or sadness – this is especially felt if a loved one suffered life-threatening injuries or passed away.
Helplessness – the uncertainly of life and unpredictably of an event may leave you feeling vulnerable.
Guilt – depending on the situation you may feel guilt that you survived, or you may keep going over the situation feeling that you could have done more to help.
Dealing with trauma
It can take time to recover and rebuild your emotional balance after experiencing a traumatic event.
Here are a few things that might help you to move on with your life:
- Don’t ignore your feelings
While it may be tempting to ignore painful feelings, blocking them out will only prolong your recovery. They still exist, whether you pay attention to them or not. Remember that even intense emotions will pass.
- Keep your routine
Where possible, try to get back to your usual routine as soon as you can. There is comfort in what is familiar. Your routine will help you to feel back to normal and minimise any stress, hopelessness and anxiety you may be feeling. Even if your usual routine is disrupted, try to structure your day with regular times for sleeping, relaxing, eating and spending time with loved ones.
- Don’t make any major decisions
While you are traumatised, avoid making any big decisions in life relating to your work, family or home. Such decisions will only increase your stress-levels further. If possible, it’s best to wait until your life has settled down a little and you’re able to think more clearly.
Is there a difference between PSTD and traumatic stress?
While the symptoms of both can look very similar in the weeks following a traumatic event, they develop very differently. As hard as such an event can be, the symptoms do tend to ease gradually and improve as time goes on – particularly if the above steps are followed to care for your mental health.
That said, if the symptoms of traumatic stress don’t improve and you feel ‘stuck’ and unable to move on from the situation despite time passing, you could be experiencing PTSD. With this disorder, you remain in emotional shock.
Know when to seek professional help
Often feelings such as anxiety and despair after a distressing event will start to fade relatively quickly. But, if your reaction to the trauma is persistent and intense and it begins to affect your ability to function on a day-to-day basis, you may need to seek help from a trauma psychologists or a psychiatrist.
Some red flags are that you’re:
- not functioning well at home or work
- having horrible flashbacks, memories or nightmares
- struggling to relate and connect with others
- experiencing thoughts or feelings of suicide
- avoiding anything that reminds you of the traumatic event
If you would like to organise an appointment to speak with one of our psychologists experienced in trauma and stress, please get in touch.
We have a several psychologists on our team who are highly experienced in dealing with trauma who would be happy to talk through things with you.
Our trauma psychologists are:
You can either book an appointment online here or call 1800 327 477 and speak to our friendly reception team who can advise which psychologists on our team can best help.