Trauma

A traumatic event is any experience in which a person is exposed to, or witnesses, a threatening or harmful event, and experiences strong negative emotions and helplessness. Examples include rape, sexual assault, domestic violence, being in or witnessing a holdup or motor vehicle accident, witnessing an unexpected or violent death, being in a natural disaster or being caught up in conflicts or war.

Other traumatic events are more personal. They include public ridicule, bullying, critical put downs by parents or others, and any form of emotional abuse. Although some people might not call these events ‘traumatic’, the brain responds in exactly the same way because they are associated with a high level of emotional distress. The emotions and bodily reactions at the time of the traumatic event are associated with chemicals in the nervous system, including adrenaline, and these cause the brain to store or encode the traumatic experience in a manner different from an everyday event which doesn’t carry a strong emotional charge.

When you experience a traumatic event it is quite normal to have strong emotional or physical reactions. These reactions often remain after the traumatic event has ceased and can takes days or weeks to subside. Sometimes the symptoms of a stress reaction may last longer than days or weeks, depending on the severity and circumstances of the trauma and available follow-up support.Common physical, cognitive (thinking) and emotional reactions indicative of traumatic stress are outlined below:

Physical
  • Fatigue / exhaustion
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Nausea
  • Nightmares
  • Restlessness
  • Headaches
  • Excessive alertness and being easily startled
Cognitive
  • Poor concentration
  • Poor attention and memory
  • Visual images of the event
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Disorientation
  • Confusion
Emotional
  • Fear
  • Numbness and detachment
  • Avoidance
  • Depression
  • Guilt
  • Over-sensitivity
  • Anxiety and panic
  • Withdrawal and tearfulness

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