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Traumatic events affect people in different ways. They can affect how you think and how you feel, both physically and emotionally. Everyone’s experience of trauma is

What is a trauma?

Traumas are events that happen which are outside your ordinary every day experiences and which are not ‘normal’ life events. It can be a frightening, scary or seriously upsetting experience. For some people there can be a period of time after the event when the way they think, feel and act may change. Different people can experience different things as trauma. What is traumatic to one person may not be for someone else. Some causes of trauma include:

• Experience of abuse/neglect
• Dangerous, life-threatening event
• Accidents/Injuries
• Disability
• Bereavement

What happens during and after a trauma?

During an event which you find traumatic, you are taking in lots of information about what is happening, which is being stored in your brain. Some of this information will be stored so that you can tell others about what happened. Other information will be stored in the form of pictures, sounds and smells. These memories may be “triggered” when you see, hear or smell something that reminds you of the traumatic
event. Some people may not be able to give a good verbal description of the
event that happened, but will react very strongly if they see, hear or smell something that reminds them of the event.

After a traumatic event, your mind will then try to deal with the information you have stored in your brain and try to process whats happened. At this point, many different things can happen. You may go through the story again and again wondering why it happened to you. You might ask yourself the questions: Was it my fault? Could I have done something about it? Will it happen again? Has the world become a scarier place? You might also consider what other people will think of you. On the other hand you might try to “block out” what happened. You might refuse to talk about the event, try to convince others that it did not affect you, or increase alcohol intake or take drugs to “numb” your feelings.

Common symptoms of trauma

It is normal to experience a range of symptoms after a traumatic event. The symptoms you experience will usually reduce over a few weeks and can include:

Anxiety & Fear: It is normal to feel anxious or fearful if you have been involved in a dangerous, frightening or life threatening situation.

Physical arousal, memory and concentration difficulties: You may feel jumpy, tense, irritable and bad- tempered. You might find difficulty in sleeping, in concentrating on things and remembering things.
Flashbacks: It is common to experience flashbacks or replays of the traumatic event. Flashbacks can be very vivid and can occur in the form of nightmares.

Avoidance: You may try to avoid thinking about the trauma, or avoid going near where it happened. This may help in the short-term but, in the longer-term, may make things worse.

Feeling depressed: It is common to feel depressed after experiencing a trauma. You may feel negative about yourself and your future and lose interest in activities you previously enjoyed.

Guilt or anger: You may feel guilty when looking back at the trauma and assume you had more control over the situation than was really the case. You might also direct anger outwards to other people, or inwards in the form of self-blame.

Worrying what others think: You may be concerned about how other people view you, whether they will treat you differently or think the trauma was your fault.

How to help overcome trauma

Firstly its important to be kind and considerate to yourself. Accept that you have been through an event which has overwhelmed you and which will take a bit of time to understand, cope with and put behind you. This is an event you are never likely to forget. However, it is an event you can carefully put behind you and move forward in your life. It is important to talk about what has happened to people who are close to you and who can listen to your story without judging. Make sure you eat well, take exercise and rest. Often, it is easy not to bother about these things when you are upset – but they are important. If after a month or so, you are not feeling better make an appointment to see a therapist. In the short term medication can be helpful especially for severe cases, although this is not without side effects and should not be considered a longer term solution. Longer lasting relief without side effects can be obtained through psychotherapeutic approaches such as CBT which can be very helpful.