It is completely normal to have a reaction following an abnormal or adverse event. Following a traumatic event, people often feel shocked, scared, disoriented, or a lack of ability to process the event itself. These traumatic events, when left unprocessed can feel “stuck”. For instance, when a trigger, subconscious or conscious comes up, we may feel as if we are right back in a traumatic experience aka, we are experiencing a “flashback”. If these are persistent, it may be helpful to get professional support to reduce the frequency and intensity of trauma symptoms.

Coping With Traumatic Stress

Coping with responses to trauma

Unwanted disturbing memories, thoughts, or images
Remind yourself that these memories, thoughts or images are all in the past, it is natural to have memories of trauma. Talking with someone you trust can be helpful in externalizing thoughts or images surrounding the traumatic experience.

Sudden intense or unpredictable anxiety or panic
Traumatic stress can elicit intense feelings of anxiety or panic. Physiologically, this may look like a rapid increase in heart rate, racing thoughts, rapid breathing or feeling lightheaded. If this occurs, remind yourself that these reactions are not dangerous. These reactions can be similar to when we are exercising and they would most likely not worry you in that particular setting. Additionally, regaining control of your breath is an important component in nervous system regulation.

As mentioned above, flashbacks are a normal and common reaction to a traumatic event. If you experience a flashback, keep your eyes open and notice what you see, smell, hear, touch, and taste around you. This is also called a “grounding” technique to essentially help reground yourself in the present instead of the past. Remind yourself of where you are, that you are physically safe in the present moment. Additionally, moving around, drinking water and washing your hands are helpful strategies to continue to orient yourself into the present moment.

Difficulty concentrating
It is okay to pause or to slow down, give yourself more time to focus on what you need to do. To-do lists can be a helpful strategy to keep track of tasks throughout the day. Furthermore, break down tasks into smaller goals. It can also be helpful to plan a realistic number of tasks or events for the day.

It is completely normal to feel a wide array of emotions following a traumatic experience. Allowing yourself to face these feelings, lean on others for support, and to utilize your resources is an important part of the healing process. Avoidance of emotions can alleviate emotions such as anxiety or fear in the short-term however can interfere and prolong our healing process. Reach out for professional support if symptoms continue to persist.

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