Trauma is defined as the emotional response someone has to an extremely negative event, such as the one we had this weekend.
While trauma is a normal reaction to a horrible event, the effects can be so severe that they interfere with an individual’s ability to manage everyday life.
Give yourself time to heal what we have experienced is important. Don’t try to force the healing process. Allow yourself to feel whatever you’re feeling without judgment or guilt. It’s important to avoid obsessively reliving the traumatic event, as it can overwhelm us and make it harder to think clearly. There is no right or wrong way to respond, so however our loved ones are feeling, respect their feelings as they begin to work through them.
It is also important to know that signs of traumatic stress do not always present immediately after a traumatic event. Sometimes it can be days or event weeks before they start appearing. We need to look for signs in ourselves as well as our loved ones in hopes of providing support should the signs of trauma appear. Our early response to trauma will help us avoid the long term affects of trauma.
Everyone is encouraged to seek assistance to process your strong emotions and feelings. Ignoring them won’t make them go away. If you have support through your work’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or through your medical insurance, seek support available to you.
What tips or advice to we have for people dealing with trauma, either in terms of:
WHAT SIGNS SHOULD THEY BE LOOKING FOR?
Normal emotional responses to traumatic events (www.helpguide.org)
- Shock and disbelief – you may have a hard time accepting the reality of what happened
- Fear – that the same thing will happen again, or that you’ll lose control or break down
- Sadness – particularly if people you know died
- Helplessness – the sudden, unpredictable nature of terrorist attacks, accidents, or natural disasters may leave you feeling vulnerable and helpless
- Guilt – that you survived when others died, or that you could have done more to help
- Anger – you may be angry at God or others you feel are responsible
- Shame – especially over feelings or fears you can’t control
- Relief – you may feel relieved that the worst is over, and even hopeful that your life will return to normal
Normal physical responses to traumatic events
It’s important to know what the physical symptoms of traumatic stress look like, so they don’t scare you. They will go away if you don’t fight them:
- Trembling or shaking
- Pounding heart
- Rapid breathing
- Lump in throat; feeling choked up
- Stomach tightening or churning
- Feeling dizzy or faint
- Cold sweats
- Racing thoughts
WHAT CAN THEY DO ABOUT IT?
- Consider minimizing media exposure, especially to children. Be aware of the various ways in which children are exposed to unnecessary anxiety provoking post-trauma media coverage.
- Accept your feelings and give yourself time to heal. They are normal reactions to trauma and you may not be expecting to feel certain ways, such as overly excitable, sad, anxious, etc. Overtime you should see a reduction in the overwhelming feelings.
- Challenge your sense of feeling helpless: We have had an opportunity to reassess our readiness for such an event. What can we do to be better prepared. Consider volunteering for a good cause that will improve our state’s prepared responses.
- Move/Exercise and reduce your stress: Doing mindful activities will help increase “feel good” endorphins and reduce anxiety provoking adrenaline rushes.
- Most importantly: Seek help from others: This doesn’t always mean seeking professional help. Keeping an active family and social support network in our communities is important. Support groups, church gatherings, and community organizations are also there to support us.
WHEN TO SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP
Usually symptoms after a traumatic event will begin to subside over a few days, however if the following symptoms persist, consider seeking professional help:
- It’s been six weeks, and you’re not feeling any better;
- You’re having trouble functioning at home and work;
- You’re experiencing terrifying memories, nightmares, or flashbacks;
- You’re having an increasingly difficult time engaging with others;
- You’re having suicidal thoughts or feelings; or
- You’re avoiding people, places, or things that remind you of the traumatic event.
WHAT OTHER RESOURCES DOES CFS OFFER TO FAMILIES FACING TRAUMA SUCH AS THIS?
- The Parent Line (funded by the State of Hawaii Deaprtment of Health):
- CFS has Family Centers on each major island.
- If your employer has one, contact your employee assistance program (EAP), such as WorkLife Hawaii (a division of Child & Family Service).