20. Jun, 2017

Effects of Trauma

As a result of recent events in Manchester and London, I have been asked a number of questions about trauma. If you have questions then I hope this will help answer them -

© 2017 Pam Arland

Traumatic events                       

A traumatic event may be an act of terrorism or violence, a disaster or an accident.

A traumatic event often causes moderate to severe stress reactions.

Traumatic events can affect survivors, rescue workers, family members, friends, colleagues and witnesses.

Traumatic events can also affect individuals who see them on television, hear about them on the radio or from someone involved, or read about them on social media or in the press.

Whatever traumatic event has taken place, each individual will have their own individual reaction to it. And each individual reaction will be unique.


How do we usually react to trauma?

After a traumatic event we often look at life in a slightly different way. Our perspective, assumptions and expectations of life are changed. Typically we feel shocked, saddened and vulnerable.

The following reactions are ALL usual and as individuals we may experience some or all of these reactions.


*shock                  *numbness/ feeling nothing      *anxiety                              *depression       *sadness

*guilt for surviving/surviving better                         *fear of something else happening

*fear of returning to the place                   *fear of harm to self and loved ones      *fear of being alone

*fear of having to leave our family           *not knowing what we feel                        *feeling lost

*feeling abandoned                       *feeling overwhelmed




*poor concentration                      *difficulty making decisions        *confusion         *memory loss

                *shortened attention span         *unwanted memories                   *indecisiveness




*irritability          *getting into arguments                               *increased/decreased eating

*inappropriate humour                                *loss of interest in everyday life                               *withdrawal

* change in sexual interest          *suspicion           *increased use of nicotine, alcohol or drugs


Physical reactions


*headaches       *listlessness/feeling tired            *nausea               *loss of appetite              *edginess

                *stomach pains                                *pounding heart              *tremors             *disturbed sleep

*nightmares      *increased sensitivity to noise or people                              *rapid breathing             

*tightness in the chest                  *upsetting thoughts                       *tightness in the chest


Helping ourselves to recover

 Our reactions to trauma are unique. My reaction will be different to yours and that is OK.

Our reactions result from our backgrounds and experience of life so far.

It is helpful to give yourself permission to NOT feel OK.

Difficult feelings are your body’s way of helping you to accept and adjust to what has happened so you can develop a new view of the world and move forward.

It is helpful to have time to focus on relaxing. Often we need an absorbing activity to help us do this. Different activities work for different people so it’s helpful to find out what works for you e.g. reading, watching a comedy on TV, sorting the washing.

It is helpful to aim for a balance of resting, nourishment and exercise. If we can’t be bothered with anything else or can’t face life, we can care for ourselves by setting minimum daily goals e.g. have a 10 minute nap on the sofa, eat a banana, walk 10 minutes to the corner shop. We can build our goals up as we recover.

It is helpful to make as many decisions as possible because they give us a sense of control over our lives. This is something we often feel we have lost following a traumatic incident. So starting small is helpful e.g. have a boiled egg or cereal for breakfast? wear the blue T-shirt or the green one?

It is helpful to take more care than usual both around the house e.g. cooking on the hob and

out-and-about e.g. driving to work. We are much more likely to have an accident when we are experiencing trauma.

It can be helpful to identify someone in your life who is a good listener and doesn’t make judgements. Most people are pleased to be able to offer support if asked, so this can be an important source of support going forward.

It can be helpful to keep a journal.

It’s OK to cry, in fact it’s good for our healing.

It can be helpful to share feelings with others affected and to take an interest in their progress.

If at all possible, we are better to avoid drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and coffee.

It is helpful that we avoid media coverage of what has happened.

It is not generally a good idea for us to make big life changes or snap decisions until we are fully recovered.



When we need outside help

Sometimes we experience trauma which is too severe for us to cope with alone. If this happens, we need to contact a healthcare professional. So how do we identify that we, or someone we know, is at this point?

 *inability to care for self or children e.g. not getting out of bed, not washing for days on end, not feeding the children

*ongoing feelings of numbness, anxiety, confusion, exhaustion

*low mood continuing after 2 weeks

*ongoing extreme emotional reactions

*ongoing nightmares

*ongoing poor sleeping pattern

*excessive use of alcohol, drugs or cigarettes

*thoughts of suicide

*ongoing making mistakes or having accidents

*realising work performance and/or relationships are suffering

*wanting to share emotions and not having anyone to do that with