Traumatic Events Information Sheet

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Have you experienced a traumatic event (an injury, loss of a loved one or property, a serious threat, or any over- whelming emotional experience). Even though the event may be over, you may now be experiencing or may ex- perience later some strong emotional or physical reactions. It is very common, in fact quite normal, for people to experience emotional aftershocks when they have passed through a horrible event.

Sometimes the emotional aftershocks (or stress reactions) appear immediately after the traumatic event. Some- times they may appear a few hours or a few days later. And, in some cases, weeks, months or years may pass be- fore the stress reactions appear.

The signs and symptoms of a stress reaction may last a few days, a few weeks or a few months and occasionally longer depending on the severity of the traumatic event. With the understanding and support of loved ones, stress reactions usually pass more quickly. Occasionally, the traumatic event is so painful that professional assistance from a counselor may be necessary. This does not imply craziness or weakness. It simply indicates that the partic- ular trauma was just too powerful to manage without help.

Common Signs of a Stress Reaction:

PHYSICAL SIGNS
Fatigue ● Nausea ● Muscle tremors ● Twitches ● Chest pain ● Difficulty breathing ● Elevated Blood Pressure ● Rapid heart rate ● Thirst ● Visual difficulties ● Vomiting ● Grinding of teeth ● Weakness ● Dizziness ● Profuse sweating ● Chills Shock symptoms ● Fainting ● etc.

COGNITIVE SIGNS
Blaming someone ● Confusion ● Poor attention ● Poor decisions ● Heightened or lowered alertness ● Poor concentration ● Memory problems ● Hyper-vigilance ● Difficulty identifying familiar objects or people ● Increased or decreased awareness of surroundings ● Poor problem solving ● Poor abstract thinking ● Loss of time, place, or person orientation ● Disturbed thinking ● Nightmares ● Intrusive images ● etc.

EMOTIONAL & BEHAVIORIAL SIGNS
Anxiety ● Guilt ● Grief ● Denial ● Severe panic ● Emotional shock ● Fear ● Uncertainty ● Loss of emotional control ● Depression ● Inappropriate emotional response ● Apprehension ● Feeling overwhelmed ● Intense anger ● Irritability ● Agitation ● Change in activity ● Change in speech patterns ● Withdrawal ● Emotional outbursts ● Suspiciousness ● Change in usual communications ● Loss or increase of appetite ● Alcohol consumption ● Inability to rest ● Antisocial acts ● Nonspecific bodily complaints ● Hyper-alert to environment ● Startle reflex intensified ● Pacing ● Erratic movements ● Change in sexual functioning ● etc.

Alleviating Emotional Pain

Trying some of the following hints may help alleviate the emotion pain associated with a traumatic event. For the next few days you may want to consider avoiding excess caffeine, salt, sugar, alcohol and eating/drinking more wholesome foods. Give your body a chance to recover too.

For Yourself

  • Try to get more rest.
  • Maintain as normal a schedule as possible but give yourself permission to take breaks.
  • You’re normal and having normal reactions— don’t label yourself crazy.
  • Talk to people—talk is the most healing medicine.
  • Avoid numbing the pain with drugs or alcohol; you don’t need to complicate things with a sub- stance abuse problem.
  • Reoccurring thoughts, dreams or flashbacks are normal—don’t try to fight them; they’ll decrease over time and become less painful.
  • Eat well-balanced and regular meals (even if you don’t feel like it).
  • Reach out—people do care.
  • Spend time with others.
  • Help other affected people as much as possible by sharing feelings and checking out how they are doing.
  • Give yourself permission to feel rotten and share your feelings with others.
  • Keep a journal; write (type/record) your way through those sleepless hours.
  • Do things that feel good to you.
  • Don’t make any big life changes.
  • Do make as many daily decisions as possible that will give you a feeling of control over your life, i.e., if someone asks you what you want to eat, answer them even if you’re not sure.
  • Get plenty of rest.
Family Members and Friends

  • Listen carefully.
  • Spend time with the traumatized person.
  • Offer your assistance and a listening ear especially if they have not asked for help.
  • Reassure them that they are safe.
  • Help them with everyday tasks like cleaning, cooking, and caring for the family.
  • Give them some private time.
  • Don’t take their anger or other feelings person- ally.
  • Don’t tell them that they are “lucky it wasn’t worse.” Those statements do not console traumatized people. Instead, tell them that you are sorry such an event has occurred and you want to understand and help them.
  • Don’t be surprised if your loved one only wants to talk about the incident with their colleagues, as long as they are talking.
  • Take care of yourself.

If the symptoms described on the front page of this handout are severe or if they last longer than six weeks, the traumatized person may need professional counseling. The traumatized person or their family members may contact a professional they know or Common Ground at: 800.231.1127 for assistance.