‘Normal’ reactions:

 The symptoms you may experience after a traumatic event can be divided into three groups:

  • Re-experiencing the Event (intrusive reactions). You may feel like you are experiencing the traumatic event all over again, through memories (thoughts or images) that come into your mind or into your dreams.
  • Arousal Reactions. You may feel nervous, panicky, anxious, agitated, tearful, be unable to concentrate, have difficulty sleeping, and find yourself over-reacting to small things.
  • Avoidance Reactions. You might try not to think about the traumatic event or anything that might remind you of it. You may shut down your feelings and try to keep to yourself and away from other people or from things you would normally do. You may have a sense of feeling withdrawn or emotionally numb.

These symptoms can feel overwhelming and can be very distressing and therefore it is useful to understand why they exist.

When you are in a threatening/dangerous (i.e. traumatic) situation your body responds automatically and naturally so that you have the energy for survival (the fight or flight (stress) response).

During the fight or flight response your body produces adrenaline that is circulated to muscles enabling the body to move more quickly, be stronger and more tolerant of pain. Your muscles become tense and your breathing rate increases.

Sometimes after a traumatic event the brain continues to get messages that there is a threat/danger (just as at the time of the trauma) and the body produces the same (stress) response. Even small triggers (reminders) can cause this response.

Other Symptoms Include:

  • Sleeplessness.
  • Nightmares.
  • Anger/Irritability.
  • Feeling worried about the future.
  • A feeling of being on ‘red alert’.

Usually, after a few days or weeks, these symptoms settle down.

If after one month these symptoms continue additional help might be required.

Why do I feel this way?

During very threatening incidents it is thought our brains find it very difficult to take in what has happened.  Consequently, pictures and/or feelings of the experience tend to come into our minds in ‘flashbacks’ or nightmares.  It is generally thought that this may in fact be part of a natural healing process as our brains try to come to terms with what has happened.

Any kind of threat to our survival often leads us to re-evaluate our views of the world.  We tend to assume that we are invulnerable and when this is challenged, we can become generally more nervous about life and the future.

How long will these reactions last?

Recovery from a traumatic incident takes time.  This is important to remember.

Many people find that nightmares and flashbacks decrease, though the time this takes is variable depending on the individual.

As the time since the event increases, feelings that there is a danger around every corner also tend to become less.  However, many people remain more sensitive to danger than they were previously, though this does not necessarily make people over-cautious, perhaps more realistic than others.

How will I know when I’ve recovered?

People generally feel they’ve recovered when they are able to enjoy life again, perhaps get back to work and their nightmares and flashbacks have decreased.  They do not restrict their activities or avoid doing something because it reminds them of the event.  They often find they are able to talk about it without becoming very distressed.

Some people seem to recover well without psychological help, but with much support and encouragement from friends and family.  However, many people find that some additional therapeutic help is needed in order to reduce disabling flashbacks, help them to lay the event to rest and face the future.

If people have been left with disabling injuries following an accident, this also means a lot of work in adapting to these and some kind of psychological support may help with this.

Is there anything that will help my recovery?

Although people may recover in many different ways, it is generally thought that the following may help:

  • Being able to talk through your feelings and thoughts.
  • Support and understanding from friends and/or family.
  • Gradually getting yourself back to work if possible.
  • Trying to make sure you are still doing enjoyable or pleasurable activities.
  • Spending enjoyable time in other’s company.
  • Lots of sleep, rest and relaxation, to help body and mind recover.

Is there anything I might be doing that may not help my recovery?

Again, although there are no hard and fast rules, it’s generally thought that the following may not be helpful:

  • Refusing to think about the event or anything relating to it.
  • Refusing to talk about feelings and thoughts.
  • Carrying on as if nothing had ever happened.
  • Avoiding anything that might remind you of the event.
  • Becoming withdrawn and not doing anything enjoyable.
  • Thinking about nothing other than the event.
  • Relying on recreational drugs or alcohol to mask your feelings.

When should I get more help?

This really depends on how you think the after effects of a trauma are affecting your life. If you feel that the continuing symptoms mentioned above are impacting you in everyday life, and this is not decreasing after 4-6 weeks then it may be time to seek some additional professional help.

Where can I get Further Help?

  • Your GP – they have access to various forms of support and can talk to you about your symptoms. Find a GP using the NHS website.
  • Talking therapies/counselling services – available via NHS or privately – see link below
  • DSAA Patient and Family Liaison Nurses – Jo and/or Kirsty may be able to advise you where to find further support or talk to you about the event to provide some closure.
  • Your current Mental Health practitioner (if relevant)
  • The list of linked resources may provide you with information and support services relevant to your situation.