Ways To Deal With Trauma – Sad events in life – whether expected or unexpected – can trigger a trauma response in all of us. Common unexpected events include being attacked or robbed, being in a car or bicycle accident, having a traumatic medical experience (eg childbirth, invasive surgery), or being bullied at work. Even where the distressing event is expected, as is the case with certain occupations such as first responders (e.g. police, firefighters, ambulance officers and paramedics) and frontline health workers (e.g. nurses, doctors), the events they attend can lead to trauma

Trauma is a psychological, emotional and physical response to an experience that is deeply distressing or upsetting. It can happen only once – like in a car accident or a very difficult childbirth experience, or it can be repeated over time in the case of abuse, war and torture. Fear, helplessness, and horror are reactions we see in trauma, and it can affect you when it happens, or appear later.

Ways To Deal With Trauma

Ways To Deal With Trauma

Everyone responds differently to traumatic events, and our reactions are shaped by our previous life experiences, personality, how supportive our network is, and whether we’ve been exposed to past traumas. Despite this, there are some common symptoms that we all experience.

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Although these are unpleasant, they are considered “normal reactions” in the weeks following the critical incident you experienced. To help ease your misery soon try the following tips:

Of course, everyone’s response to a traumatic event is different and is shaped by personality, coping mechanisms, support and previous traumatic experiences. Sometimes the stress you experience after a difficult event can turn into Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Below we outline what to look out for, and after that, we have our Trauma Tips tip (scroll below!).

In general, PTSD symptoms are indicated if you continue to experience the following about four weeks after the event [2]:

Depending on the incident you were involved in, below are some common examples we’ve seen when these “normal reactions” turn into PTSD. If you notice that what you are experiencing is preventing you from living your life as you normally would, it may be time to reach out to speak with a qualified mental health professional.

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After a difficult pregnancy or birth, you may even find it difficult to bond with your child because of the reminders of the trauma, which in turn can trigger guilt.

Around 30% of Australians have reported being a victim of crime[3]. Trauma following an assault or crime can be exacerbated in situations where the incident is accidental/unexpected, where the crime was very personal in nature (eg sexual assault, torture). The process of reporting and dealing with the criminal justice system can also increase the distress experienced.

Depending on where you live in the world, natural disasters (eg forest fires, earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, hurricanes) may be part of your lived experience. Traumatic symptoms after natural disasters can include:

Ways To Deal With Trauma

Sometimes events occur at work that have the potential to lead to trauma above and beyond “regular” work stress. Examples may include witnessing a death or serious injury in a warehouse or construction site, or an assault in a customer service role.

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Signs of non-coping include work avoidance or fear of returning to the workplace/event, flashbacks to the event, anger and guilt towards colleagues or management, problems in carrying out usual duties due to poor concentration and an increased state of anxiety, as well as persistent fear of threat when occupying your usual role.

Some occupations also mean you are more likely to be exposed to trauma as part of your role, as is the case for first responders (fire and emergency services, police, ambulance and paramedics) and emergency medicine.

For these professions, in addition to the above signs of not coping there may also be ongoing doubt about your decision-making processes when it comes to helping others.

While some occupations are more likely to be directly exposed to distressing events (e.g. first responders), vicarious trauma and secondary traumatic stress can also emerge through indirect exposure to distressing events: [4]

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Vicarious trauma, Secondary Traumatic Stress, and Compassion Fatigue are distinct from the related concept of Burnout (which reflects general work-related emotional exhaustion, overwhelm, and detachment from the work role). Rather, they involve changes in worldviews (eg of safety, death and dying) as a result of the work they do.

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Ways To Deal With Trauma

What makes an effective treatment when it comes to trauma and PTSD has been extensively researched. The most effective components (the “gold standard treatments”) use cognitive and exposure therapies (CBT), including eye-moment desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).[5], [6]

Ptsd (post Traumatic Stress Disorder): Symptoms & Treatment

Trauma-focused cognitive therapies help change unhelpful thinking and negative reactions resulting from the traumatic experience. It also generally includes gradually confronting the traumatic memories in a safe environment and gentle exposure to the triggers of fear and distress until the fear subsides. That is, you learn by slowly facing your fears that the ‘threat’ is not as great as you believed, and you are better able to cope with reminders of the traumatic event.

EMDR takes an alternative approach in that it does not require repeated in-depth discussion of the traumatic event or prolonged exposure to fear-inducing stimuli, yet provides desensitization to the trauma. EMDR is based on the idea that overwhelming emotions during a traumatic event interfere with normal information processing, resulting in flashbacks, nightmares, and other distressing symptoms.

During EMDR, the psychologist works with you to identify a specific area of ​​focus (eg a distressing image) for the treatment session. You then bring up this image and the psychologist will then start eye movements (to induce bilateral stimulation). These eye movements are used until the memory becomes less disturbing and is paired instead with a more positive thought and belief.[7]

Which treatment is more suitable for you? The answer is “it depends” – based on your own individual circumstances and your coping styles, so be sure to discuss this with your mental health professional rather than just “jumping in” and asking for specific treatment. You can be sure that both of these treatment options are considered “gold standard treatments” by Phoenix Australia, an organization that leads the way in trauma research in Australia.

Trauma Coping Statements

If you are looking for help with trauma symptoms and are based in Perth, Australia, why not book an appointment so we can help you get started?

[1] Bryant, R.A., Gollagher, H.C., Gibbs, L., Pattison, P., MacDougall, C., Harms, L., Block, K., Baker, E., Sinnott, V., Ireton, G. , Richardson, J., Forbes, D., & Lusher, D. (2017). Mental health and social networks after a disaster.

Australia Guidelines for the Treatment of Acute Stress Disorder and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Specific Populations and Trauma Types: Victims of crime and PTSD.

Ways To Deal With Trauma

[4] Devilly, G.J., Wright, R., & Varker, T. (2009). Vicarious trauma, secondary trauma or simply exhaustion? Impact of trauma therapy on mental health professionals.

Coping With Trauma Related Symptoms

Dr. Tara Yewers is a Counseling Psychologist with approximately 20 years of experience. She has a special interest in the subject of trauma.

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