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Traumatic Event - Coping Mechanisms, Symptoms & Treatments

Traumatic event?

Aisha: I think I have experienced one.

Riya: Yeah, I think most people do, but the question is how do they come out of it?

Aisha: It is a very hard phase to overcome, it was full of tragic experiences.

Riya: If you don't mind, can you elaborate?

A traumatic event is a shocking, scary, or dangerous experience that can affect someone emotionally and physically. Experiences like natural disasters (such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and floods), acts of violence (such as assault, abuse, terrorist attacks, and mass shootings), as well as car crashes and other accidents can all be traumatic. Researchers are investigating the factors that help people cope or that increase their risk for other physical or mental health problems following a traumatic event.

Coping mechanisms of trauma:

Warning Signs and symptoms:

Responses to trauma can be immediate or delayed, brief or prolonged. Most people have intense responses immediately following, and often for several weeks or months after a traumatic event. These responses can include:

  • Feeling anxious, sad, or angry

  • Trouble concentrating and sleeping

  • Continually thinking about what happened

For most people, these are normal and expected responses and generally lessen with time.

In some cases, these responses continue for a longer period of time and interfere with everyday life. If they are interfering with daily life or are not getting better over time, it is important to seek professional help. Some signs that an individual may need help include:

  • Worrying a lot or feeling very anxious, sad, or fearful

  • Crying often

  • Having trouble thinking clearly

  • Having frightening thoughts or flashbacks, reliving the experience

  • Feeling angry, resentful, or irritable

  • Having nightmares or difficulty sleeping

  • Avoiding places or people that bring back disturbing memories and responses.

  • Becoming isolated from family and friends

Children and teens can have different reactions to trauma than those adults. Symptoms sometimes seen in very young children (less than six years old) can include:
  • Wetting the bed after having learned to use the toilet

  • Forgetting how to or being unable to talk

  • Acting out the scary event during playtime

  • Being unusually clingy with a parent or other adult

Older children and teens are more likely to show symptoms similar to those seen in adults. They may also develop disruptive, disrespectful, or destructive behaviours. Older children and teens may feel guilty for not preventing injury or death. They may also have thoughts of revenge.

Physical responses to trauma may also mean that an individual needs help. Physical symptoms may include:

  • Headaches

  • Stomach pain and digestive issues

  • Feeling tired

  • Racing heart and sweating

  • Being very jumpy and easily startled

Individuals who have a mental health condition or who have had traumatic experiences in the past, who face ongoing stress, or who lack support from friends and family may be more likely to develop more severe symptoms and need additional help. Some people turn to alcohol or other drugs to cope with their symptoms. Although substance use may seem to relieve symptoms temporarily, it can also lead to new problems and get in the way of recovery.

Coping with Trauma:

  • Lean on your loved ones - Identify friends or family members for support. If you feel ready to discuss the traumatic event, you might talk to them about your experience and your feelings. You can also ask loved ones to help you with household tasks or other obligations to relieve some of your daily stress.

  • Face your feelings - It’s normal to want to avoid thinking about a traumatic event. But not leaving the house, sleeping all the time, isolating yourself from loved ones, and using substances to escape reminders are not healthy ways to cope over time. Though avoidance is normal, too much of it can prolong your stress and keep you from healing. Gradually, try to ease back into a normal routine. Support from loved ones or a mental health professional can help a lot as you get back in the groove.

  • Prioritise self-care - Do your best to eat nutritious meals, get regular physical activity, and get a good night’s sleep. And seek out other healthy coping strategies such as art, music, meditation, relaxation, and spending time in nature.

  • Be patient - Remember that it’s normal to have a strong reaction to a distressing event. Take things one day at a time as you recover. As the days pass, your symptoms should start to gradually improve.


Cognitive Behaviour Therapy:

Cognitive behavioural therapy focuses on the relationships among thoughts, feelings and behaviours; targets current problems and symptoms; and focuses on changing patterns of behaviours, thoughts and feelings that lead to difficulties in functioning. Cognitive behavioural therapy notes how changes in any one domain can improve functioning in the other domains. For example, altering a person’s unhelpful thinking can lead to healthier behaviours and improved emotion regulation. It is typically delivered over 12-16 sessions in either individual or group format.

Cognitive processing therapy:

Cognitive processing therapy is a specific type of cognitive behavioural therapy that helps patients learn how to modify and challenge unhelpful beliefs related to the trauma. Treatment entails modifying the pessimistic evaluations and memories of trauma, with the goal of interrupting the disturbing behavioural and/or thought patterns that have been interfering in the person’s daily life. It is typically delivered in weekly sessions over three months individually or in groups.

Prolonged exposure:

Prolonged exposure is a specific type of cognitive behavioural therapy that teaches individuals to gradually approach trauma-related memories, feelings and situations. By facing what has been avoided, a person presumably learns that the trauma-related memories and cues are not dangerous and do not need to be avoided. Typically provided over a period of about three months with weekly individual sessions. 60 to 120 minutes sessions are usually needed in order for the individual to engage in exposure and sufficiently process the experience.

Trauma can be healed with support and patience, so show love and be sensitive to those who are suffering from such heartaches. It is always suggested to take the help of professionals or friends if you cannot share your experiences with anyone, Project C Foundation is one such platform with 100% confidentiality and will provide 24*7 emotional support. Reach out to us today and let us help you heal.


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