The most common initial reaction to a terrible event like an accident, serious assault, rape or natural disaster is generally relief that one survived. That tends to obscure the shock.
Left without support, the people involved in these incidents, and those who have assisted them, can experience profoundly disturbing reactions: flashbacks, unpredictable emotions, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches, stomach upsets, sweating, pounding heart or nausea.
While these feelings are normal, some people have difficulty moving on with their lives. Psychologists can help trauma victims find constructive ways of managing their emotions, enabling them to move forward in life.
Trauma may occur in two ways: either direct experience, where the survivor experiences a horrible incident or treatment, or second-hand experience such as hearing of or witnessing a traumatic incident.
What are some of the signs?
- Increased or decreased appetite
- Excessive drug or alcohol use
- Feeling tense or agitated
- Anxiety and stress
- Emotional numbness
- Flashbacks to the traumatic experience
- Loss of self-esteem
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can affect those who personally experience the catastrophe; those who witness it and those who pick up the pieces afterwards, including emergency workers and law-enforcement officers. Friends or family members who do not witness the event can also suffer.
PTSD develops differently depending on the individual. While the symptoms most often make their first appearance shortly after the event, they can sometimes lie dormant and appear even years later.
When to seek professional assistance
Not everyone develops PTSD after a traumatic experience, but about 25% do. With proper treatment, they can make a full recovery.
You should seek help from a psychologist:
- If your symptoms are still apparent after a few weeks
- If they are interfering in your ability to go about your daily routine
- If you don’t have emotional support from others to help process the experience
If you are a woman you may be at higher risk, as more women develop PTSD than men.
Psychology Melbourne’s psychologists will give you an initial test to assess your level of trauma and provide you with the appropriate treatment.
Strategies to manage PTSD
- Exercise regularly to promote endorphin release
- Try to limit alcohol or drug use
- Don’t just wait for the symptoms to go away – seek help if symptoms persist
- Learn relaxation and mindfulness techniques to calm your mind and avoid replaying or ruminating on the traumatic experience