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Coping After Traumatic Events

Coping After Traumatic Events

Common Reactions and some Tips for Coping After Traumatic Events

Major events involving threat to life can cause significant distress.  It is not unusual to have reactions to these events. Even if you do not feel like you have been directly affected, you may have friends, colleagues or family who are.  Such events may be also trigger recollection of prior experiences.

Normal reactions to traumatic events

Everyone’s reaction and experience is a very personal one. However, the following list is a guide to possible normal reactions:

  • Preoccupation with the event
  • Anger and irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Increased emotionality, feelings seem to be of a greater intensity than is usual; or, conversely, a numbing which prevents awareness of feeling
    • Over-talkativeness or, its opposite, isolating from others
    • Sleep disturbance, with or without nightmares
    • Recalling of past traumatic events or grieving
    • Difficulty with concentration and/or memory
    • Confused thinking and difficulty making decisions
    • Depression or grief

These reactions should gradually decrease over time, but it is quite normal for them to persist for a period of weeks or even months. They are not a sign of ‘not coping’, but are normal. As in any situation, it is not a sign of weakness to ask for help. If symptoms are not decreasing, seeking extra help is encouraged.

Do not be surprised if you have different reactions at different times. Having reactions in this manner allows you to avoid an emotional overload.

Also, do not be surprised if you find you and other family members are overly attentive to matters relating to safety. After an event involving threat to life it is common for people to become concerned or preoccupied with their safety or the safety of others. It is normal to want to feel that we can do something to prevent further awful things from happening.

What Can You Do?

While stress reactions are normal, how we deal with them does make a significant difference in how much these reactions will disrupt our lives. Some ways of “reacting to the reactions” are more helpful than others. In fact, not dealing effectively with these stress responses can greatly delay recovery from them.

The following suggestions are often useful ways of coping effectively and building your resilience:

  • Do not isolate yourself. While getting away from everyone may immediately feel less threatening or less distressing, it very often impedes healing.
  • Remind yourself of coping strategies which have worked for you in the past. Use your proven resilience techniques.
  • Reach out to your family and close friends - to those you trust and know care about you. Talk about how you feel about what happened. Accept the concern and care of others.
  • Ensure you eat well, get enough rest and avoid using alcohol or drugs to “self-medicate”.
  • Check in with others about how they are doing.
  • Reassure children and try and maintain usual routines.
  • Do something to help someone else. This can be helpful to your own recovery.
  • Maintain balance, don’t become preoccupied with following reporting in the media or viewing distressing material online.
  • Exercise, it can re-energize you and help to clear your mind.
  • Remember, your reactions are normal and are likely to be shared by others.

Need Help?

If you are not tracking ok, talk to someone and get some help. There are a number of internal and external health and wellbeing resources and support options available.  You can also call the 0800NZDF4U phone line (0800 693 348) for 24/7 free confidential advice and support (available to all NZDF personnel and their families).