Traumatic Incidents: The Aftermath

Whether directly or indirectly involved in a traumatic event or by simply hearing about it or watching the news, many people will have strong physical and emotional reactions. This is normal, but can also be very distressing.

The following information is presented to help make the next few days and weeks ahead easier for you. It explains common reactions and recommends ways to ease these reactions and assist you in returning to your normal level of functioning.

Common emotional reactions to traumatic incidents are:

  • Shock
  • Numbness
  • Confusion
  • Fear
  • Helplessness
  • Anger
  • Disbelief
  • Flashbacks
  • Mood changes
  • Guilt, self-doubt

Common physical reactions to traumatic incidents are:

  • Palpitations
  • Rapid breathing
  • Sweaty palms
  • Excitement
  • Nausea, GI problems
  • Shakiness, easily startled
  • Sleep problems
  • Problems concentrating
  • Preoccupation with the incident
  • Headaches
  • Changes in appetite

When we’re involved in a frightening or highly stressful situation, our bodies automatically respond. Heart rate increases, muscles tense, breathing quickens and chemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol are released.  These physical changes prepare the body to protect or defend itself from danger and together are called the fight/flight/freeze response. During a crisis, this response is usually very strong and can have lasting effects.

Following a Traumatic Incident

Immediately after, the next few days and sometimes weeks later, it is common to continue to experience a range of physical and emotional symptoms. Again, this is normal. It’s the body and mind’s reaction to the trauma it has been through. Not everyone will experience these reactions, and they may vary from person to person and usually last for a few hours, days or weeks, depending on the individual and their experiences. In most cases, reactions subside within a short period of time.

Over the Next Few Days

  • Remind yourself that your reactions are normal and will pass in time. In fact, these reactions are an expression of resilience and your ability to recover.
  • If you feel uncomfortable, scared or anxious, take a few deep breaths.
  • Remind yourself that you are safe and that the incident is over.
  • Gradually introduce yourself to tasks or situations that seem difficult.
  • Don’t try to overcome your anxieties all at once. Work at your own pace. Give yourself time
    to recover.
  • Make sure you spend time doing things that are relaxing and enjoyable – pamper yourself; give yourself some rewards.
  • Avoid using alcohol or drugs as a coping strategy.
  • Continue to talk about the experience and your reactions with those at work, your family and friends. In some instances, it may be helpful to process the experience with a professional Employee Assistance Counselor or therapist.
  • Consult your physician if physical reactions are severe or persistent.
  • Look after yourself by ensuring that you have adequate sleep, a good diet, regular exercise and relax when you can.
  • Maintain a normal routine as much as possible.

Conclusion

Remember, most people experience reactions to a traumatic incident. These reactions can vary from mild to severe. To have them is normal. A majority of people recover in a short period of time and by following the suggestions listed here, you can make your recovery easier.

If you have any concerns regarding your progress and especially if you continue to experience reactions after a few weeks, please feel free to call your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for further assistance.

 

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