COPING WITH TRAUMA
Psychological trauma occurs when a person experiences a very upsetting, negative event. Usually, traumas are unexpected, the person is unprepared, and there is nothing the person can do to prevent the trauma from occurring. Some traumas consist of a single event, such as an accident, severe illness, natural disaster, physical or sexual assault, or fire. Other traumas are chronic and ongoing, such as in the case of physical or emotional abuse.
Many of the immediate reactions to trauma are adaptive in the short term. For example, denial allows the person to function while the threat is occurring. Similarly, some mental states, such as dissociation, depersonalization, and derealization allow for emotional distancing. A person feels detached from the traumatic experience, feels “outside their own body,” watching as if someone else were experiencing the traumatic event, or experience a sense that people and objects around them are unreal.
SOON AFTER A TRAUMA
As the immediate shock of a trauma wears off, people often experience emotions that are uncomfortable, though understandable. Experiences vary but can include confusion, anxiety, sadness, anger, sleep disturbance, intrusive memories of the event, difficulty concentrating, or an elevated startle response. Immediately following a traumatic event, the most useful tools are assisting the person to gain a sense of safety, which involves connecting the person to their community, (a trusted friend, family, etc), and providing tangle items needed to cope, such as food, clothing, or medical care. It may also be useful to provide education about responses to trauma and coping strategies
TIPS FOR COPING WITH TRAUMATIC STRESS
- Engaging in Self-care- Prioritize sleep, exercise and nutrition. These basics are the first line of defense when it comes to stabilizing oneself after a trauma.
- Reach out to friends and loved ones for support.
- Avoid excessive avoidance- Some avoidance is normal following a trauma. For example, Individuals may notice that they try to avoid behaviors, places or things that remind them of the trauma; however, persistent avoidance limits the scope of one’s life and delays healing. Gradually, try to ease back into a normal routine.
- Be patient and self-compassionate- Recovering from trauma takes time; be as loving and patient with yourself as you would be to friend or family member
- If symptoms following a trauma are not diminishing, and/or they are interfering with your relationships, academics or daily functioning, seeking help from a mental health professional is essential. Please consider seeking help from a professional, such as the therapists at the University Counseling Center
HOW CAN I HELP MY FRIEND WHO HAS EXPERIENCED A TRAUMA?
- Listen compassionately and actively.
- Reassure the person that you are willing to help and offer resources such as the Villanova SARC team, University Counseling Center, and Student Health Center.
- Avoid speaking about blame or minimizing the trauma- Trauma can be exacerbated when there is betrayal trauma following the event. Betray trauma occurs when the victim is blamed for the abuse, or when others fail to protect them
- Be accepting of the range of reactions and emotions the person may experience.
- Realize that you, too, are affected by their trauma, and you may need help, too.
POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER (PTSD)
Symptoms following a trauma usually get better with time. But for some people, more intense symptoms do not go away on their own. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is one possible response to a trauma. Only a fraction of those who experience trauma (approx. 20%) develop PTSD. PTSD involves symptoms described below, that impairs functioning and lasts for longer than one month. PTSD can range from relatively mild to debilitating.
COMMON SYMPTOMS OF PTSD:
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Difficulty concentrating
- Substance abuse
- Anxiety or obsessive worry
- Irritability or angry outbursts
- Questioning of religious faith
- Apathy – “I just don’t care”
- Obsessions about personal safety or that of loved ones
- Depressed mood, low energy, low motivation
- Helplessness, powerlessness, lack of control
- Re-experiencing previous traumas or upsetting events
- Difficulty being affectionate
- Avoiding people, places, and situations related to the trauma
PTSD can range from relatively mild to debilitating If symptoms following a trauma are not diminishing, and you think you may have PTSD, seeking help from a mental health professional is essential. Please consider seeking help from a professional, such as the therapists at the University Counseling Center
HOW TO GET HELP
Free, confidential counseling is available at the University Counseling Center, 206 Health Services Building, 610-519-4050.