How do we cope with a traumatic event? The Arrive Alive road safety website is often approached by family of accident victims who would like to enquire more information about trauma counseling.
The recent fatal accident between a minibus taxi and a train in Cape Town once more highlighted the need for trauma councelling! A local Cape Town Radio Station approached the Arrive Alive website to assist in a radio interview on this topic, and we were able to refer them to the Experts from ER24.
ER24 has also made available information on trauma counseling on the ER24 website and we would like to share this on the Road Safety Blog as well:
After a shocking or disturbing event – a serious accident, an unexpected and tragic loss, a threat to your safety – there’s a need to digest that extreme experience while it’s fresh, so that it doesn’t cause post-trauma stress problems later. Perhaps the best way to do that is to debrief the experience with someone familiar with post-trauma coping strategies.
That person could be one of our professional counselors. Informal debriefing is available through our office on an individual or group basis. Such debriefing assumes that your initial stress reactions are likely to be normal reactions to that very abnormal event. But debriefing helps to keep your healthy recovery on track!
Reprinted below is some general information on coping with a traumatic event.
If this material raises a question or leaves one unanswered for you, do not hesitate to request a debriefing appointment at our office, to troubleshoot and tailor the information according to your personal circumstances.
COPING WITH A TRAUMATIC EVENT
Common Stress Reactions to a Traumatic Event
Extremely stressful experiences that include some physical injury or immediate threat of injury – to oneself or someone close by – qualify as traumatic events. Other unexpected threats or personal violations may also be shocking and disturbing. Being involved in a traumatic incident can remind us that we are all vulnerable to tragedy. Our protective belief that nothing terrible could happen to me or to people around me can be shattered.
During a traumatic event and in the following 24 hours you may experience initial shock reactions that range from intense fear or anger to numbness or detachment. In the days following the stressful event, you may experience many different thoughts, feelings, physical reactions, and behaviors that vary in intensity and duration. Some of these could be upsetting if you are not prepared to expect such normal reactions to the abnormal event just experienced. Most post-traumatic stress reactions are likely to subside within a few days or weeks, depending on individual circumstances.
Common Reactions Include:
* trouble concentrating or remembering things
* recurrent dreams, nightmares, or flashbacks
* mentally reconstructing the event to come out differently
* a sense of helplessness
* questioning beliefs, meaning
* feeling numb or disconnected
* sad or depressed feelings
* bursts of anger or irritability
* lack of enjoyment in everyday activities
* digestive problems or appetite fluctuations
* hyper vigilance, startling easily
* changes in sexual lifestyle
* sleep irregularities
* avoiding associations with the event
* trying to keep busy or distracted to avoid thinking about the event
* other atypical behavior, emotions, or physical reactions.
You are unlikely to experience all of the listed stress responses. You may experience some in a very mild form or very briefly, and none should become a long-term problem if you follow some healthy coping strategies – and avoid a few misguided ones.
First of all, just a few DON’TS:
* Do NOT let yourself become withdrawn or isolated during this time.
* Do NOT resort to overmedication or drug/alcohol use for coping or escape.
* Do NOT bottle up all of your feelings or fears; you may prolong the recovery process, not shorten it.
* Do NOT assume that your mental, physical, or emotional stress reactions are a sign of weakness, craziness, or loss of control, when they are probably a normal part of the recovery process.
It is important during times of extra stress to take positive steps to renew and care for yourself.
Here are some DO choices:
* Try to keep most of your personal routines in place, such as regular meals or other everyday rituals; these can re-establish some order when your life has been temporarily turned upside down.
* Just do what you can do: Even if you have little appetite, eat something healthy to keep yourself going. Even if your concentration is poor, it may still be wise to go to class (or work) or look at a book versus doing nothing at all. If you arent in a party mood but you do want to go out to be with friends, they should be fine with that if you let them know your wishes.
* When you can, allow yourself to feel emotions such as sadness, anger, or grief over what happened. Talking to others about your feelings is important. Make that long-distance call or write your experience down – whatever helps your mind digest this experience and put it behind you.
* Get some appropriate physical exercise, along with regular sleep, rest, and relaxation.
* Use family and friends you trust for some informal debriefing, but feel free to use a professional counsellor for some debriefing, too. It can be part of dealing with an experience promptly and preventing future complications.
* Discuss your experience with anyone who went through the event with you. If a group debriefing meeting is offered (by a trained professional), take advantage of the opportunity.
If your traumatic experience also involved a personal loss, such as the death of someone close to you, recognize that your stress or shock will be accompanied by grief reactions as well, which will deserve appropriate expression and recovery time in their own right.
Article by Ernie McCarthy, ER24
See also Five Stages of Grief
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