Trauma - how to deal with difficult incidents

Trauma - how to deal with difficult incidents

At some point in our lives, we can all be exposed to difficult incidents that turn our lives upside down and shake us to our core. Everyone reacts differently and sometimes we need support and help to deal with what has happened. Here is some advice on how to cope with trauma.

What is a trauma?  

Throughout our lives, we all face challenging incidents that can be difficult or impossible to avoid. These events can range from wars and disasters to accidents, illness, the loss of a loved one or other circumstances you find tough to handle.  

The thing that indicates that someone has developed a trauma depends on how an individual experiences the incident. It is not the event itself that determines whether someone is traumatised. 

Reactions to trauma 

  • Sweating, heart palpitations, tremors, headaches, dizziness and muscle tension. 
  • Loss of appetite, sleeping problems and difficulty with concentration. 
  • Feeling irritation, anxiety, nervousness and restlessness. 
  • Feelings of helplessness loss of control. 
  • Increased alertness.  
  • Feelings of guilt, deep regret or having a bad conscience. 
  • Dwelling on certain thoughts. 
  • Avoiding behaviour or an intense fear of the things that reminds you of the incident. 
  • Visual memories and flashbacks. 
  • Nightmares. 
  • lack of enthusiasm and alienation.   

When people deliberately harm us, our basic and necessary sense of security and confidence in others gets shaken to its core. Be it through war, conflict or neglect, violation or violence in close relationships, among other forms of harm.  

How you can help others as a fellow human being

  • Socialise and try to create a sense of security, even if the traumatised person doesn´t want to talk about their thoughts or feelings. Show that you are there to support them, both in the most critical phase and over time. 
  • Be patient. The traumatised person may need to talk about what has happened many times. Dwelling on a trauma can help to process it. If your friend lacks the will or energy to talk about the event, respect their limits. 
  • Offer to help with practical things that can make everyday life easier.
  • Do various physical activities together, like going for a walk or training at the gym. Focusing on something else can create a distance from what has happened. 
  • Read up on relevant topics. Knowledge of how people react in difficult situations can make it easier for you and those around you to understand. 
  • The person with trauma is often aware of their behaviour and this can make them feel guilty. Don't blame them for how they are behaving. 
  • Assist in finding the right help. 
  • Supporting someone who is not feeling well can be difficult and challenging. Give yourself the opportunity to recover. You do not have to carry their whole world on your shoulders. 

When is professional help necessary? 

It´s not dangerous to have physical and psychological reactions after a serious event. 

The intensity of the reaction often decreases, and many people eventually start feeling better on their own. If someone’s daily life is greatly affected by high levels of stress and repeatedly reliving the trauma, it may be time to contact a local healthcare centre. By then, the trauma may have evolved into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in which professional care can be needed. 

What is PTSD? 

Symptoms that persist after a serious incident are referred to as “post-traumatic stress disorder”, or by the shorted expression “PTSD”. This diagnosis affects the quality of life. Here is how it can manifest. 

It´s common to relive your trauma through nightmares and flashbacks. These situations can create anxiety and stress.   

Stress symptoms like being easily frightened, feeling tense and avoiding things or situations that remind you of the trauma.   

Surreal perceptions and being disengaged in the everyday life.   

Physical illness such as pain, heart palpitations and high blood pressure are also common.   

Symptoms often appear within six months, but reactions can also occur much later. 

Advice for those affected 

  • Do not stay alone with your thoughts and feelings. Talk to people you trust, but only if you want to. 
  • Stick to your daily routines, this tells your body that you are safe. 
  • Do things that make you feel calm and secure. 
  • Make sure to get enough sleep, it will help you manage your emotions. 
  • Be physically active. The human body thrives on movement.
  • Simple relaxation exercises, mindfulness and yoga can help you find inner peace. 
  • Write down your memories and thoughts. 
  • Learn more about common reactions after a difficult incident.
  • Contact your healthcare centre or call 1177 if you feel worried. 

What help is available?  

There are a range of treatments available, depending on what you have been through and how the incident has affected you. 

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is often recommended. This involves analysing the issue, what triggered it and what consequences it has had - in order to learn a new behaviour. You may be exposed to situations that remind you of the difficult incident, but in a safe environment. This will give you strategies to deal with the problem.   

The treatment may also entail breathing exercises, physiotherapy and medication. People who feel very unwell can be helped by crisis or trauma therapy.