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Coping with traumatic events
Posted: June 16, 2009
Last Updated: June 16, 2009

A traumatic event can significantly change a person’s life. In that moment the world can change to an unpredictable, dangerous and frightening place. The impact of such an event can cause lasting and powerful changes to everyone involved in the event.

A traumatic incident is “any event that has a stressful impact sufficient enough to overwhelm your usual coping strategies.” Examples include car accidents, violent assaults, house fires, suicide attempts or suicide, and natural disasters. The strong emotional effects associated with a traumatic event are called “normal responses to abnormal events.” These responses are unique to each person; however, there are some common reactions among people who have recently experienced a traumatic event:

·         Shock – including disbelief at what is happening, numbness causing the event to seem unreal, or be slow to comprehend what has happened.

·         Fear – sudden fear of death or injury is common, fear of a recurrence of the event, fear of personal vulnerability, panicked or irrational feelings, or sudden unrelated fears can appear.

·         Anger – outrage at what has happened or who is perceived to have caused it to happen, anger at the injustice and senselessness of it all, upset at medical personnel or police for not acting quickly enough.

·         Helplessness – the traumatic incident can show us how powerless we are to prevent things from happening.

·         Sadness – upset at human destruction and losses of any kind, or the loss of the belief that the world is safe and predictable.

·         Shame - feeling exposed as helpless to others or perhaps not having reacted as you would have wished to the situation.

The most important thing is for people to openly share their thoughts and feelings after the incident. According to research, discussing the traumatic event within 72 hours of an incident can help insure that people recover and don’t experience permeable psychological harm. Adults and children need to be shown that their feelings are accepted and understood. It is also important to reassure people suffering from a traumatic event that they are safe and secure.

Also expect to experience some common stress reactions after the traumatic event. Symptoms may come and go. Be ready to recognize and discuss these emotional and physical reactions, as it can help to cope with them: difficulty sleeping, emotional numbing, nightmares or daydreaming, exhaustion or mental fatigue, change in appetite, disbelief, dwelling on or reliving images of the traumatic event, neglecting or avoiding responsibilities, episodes of crying or sadness, headaches, stomach aches, indigestion and increased frustration or impatience

To help recover try some of the following:

·         Take time to talk with friends

·         Consider having someone stay with you for a few hours a day

·         Try and maintain a normal schedule and routine, as much as possible

·         Spend extra time with children at bedtime,

·         Engage in some physical activity

·         Eat regular meals even if you aren’t hungry.

If your symptoms are interfering with usual activities, change your living behaviors in significant ways, or they persist for more than two weeks you might consider getting additional counseling. Also if you can’t escape the feelings of panic, guilt, depression or stress you should consider seeking advice from a mental health professional. Definitely seek help if a child or adult begins feeling suicidal.

If you would like more information on coping with traumatic events call Border Area Mental Health Services. To reach Border Area Mental Health Services in Grant and Hidalgo Counties, call 388-4412; in Catron County, call 533-6649 for referral; in Luna County, call 546-2174.  For CRISIS, call 538-3488 or outside Silver City, call 1-800-426-0997.





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© 2008 by Border Area Mental Health Services and Putting the Web to Work. Front-page photo copyright by Bob Pelham, Pinos Altos Cabins, and used by permission. All rights reserved. For the privacy and comfort of our clients and staff, the photographs used in this site are representative and do not show specific individuals associated with BAMHS.