What is trauma?
A traumatic event is any event which causes serious harm to a person’s physical, mental or emotional well-being. This can include a direct traumatic experience, as well as witnessing trauma happen to someone else. Traumatic events may only occur once, or may be drawn out over a period of time. Common examples include road accidents, natural disasters, global crises (for example. COVID-19), assault, domestic violence or prolonged abuse and life threatening illness.
How common are traumatic experiences?
Three out of four people in Australia experience at least one traumatic event in their lifetime. Traumatic events can be very difficult to come to terms with, but it is important to remember that you are not alone and help is available.
How do people react to traumatic events?
It is normal to experience an overwhelming physical or emotional reaction during a traumatic event. These events can also have ongoing long-term effects on the way you think, feel and act.
When should I seek help?
For some people, experiencing a traumatic event does not necessarily require treatment. The initial symptoms will subside over the course of a month or so, and the person adjusts as their feelings settle.
For others, the effects of traumatic experiences may last for several months and develop into conditions such as depression, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other anxiety disorders. In order to cope with the feelings that arise after experiencing trauma, some people will use substances such as alcohol and other drugs. Whilst this may provide a sense of relief in the short term, in the long term it can make a person’s physical and mental health worse. This can become and ongoing cycle where trauma reactions trigger cravings for substance use (comorbidity).
How are trauma symptoms treated?
It’s important to recognise that traumatic events have different effects than other stress-causing life events - therefore the recommended treatments are different to those used to overcome other mental health problems.
Effective treatments are available including:
- psychological therapies (‘talk therapy”) which focus on helping people to overcome stressful thoughts and memories and in
- some cases my require medication.
Tips for staying well
Acknowledge that self-care is needed
Traumatic experiences are distressing and emotionally exhausting. Take the time to acknowledge that strong reactions to trauma are normal and can last for a long period of time after the traumatic experience.
Show yourself the same kindness you would show to a friend or loved one that has had a traumatic experience - don’t be angry or disappointed in yourself because of your emotions. Try to invest your time and energy into taking care of yourself, rather than punishing yourself for the way that you feel.
Find time for the things you enjoy
Rest and relaxation will help you to stay well and enjoy life, eat healthy foods and maintain daily exercise.
Allow yourself time to disconnect from your everyday thought patterns. Exercises in mindful listening and mindful movement can bring your attention inward and are often helpful in reducing negative thoughts.
Avoid or limit alcohol and other substances
Using alcohol or other substances can intensify the responses to traumatic experiences resulting in heightened or prolonged effects. It is important to talk with your doctor about your alcohol and substance use if you have experienced a traumatic event, particularly if you are also taking prescribed medication.
Alcohol and other substances can interfere with the way prescription medicines work. In some cases this may cause unexpected negative reactions so it is important to share this information with your doctor.
Techniques for staying well
There are techniques you can learn and apply that will help to ease the feelings of distress associated with traumatic experiences. The following techniques will provide the best results when applied over time, so don’t give up if you don’t start to feel results immediately. Staying well takes time and effort - practice these techniques regularly and often for the best results.
Self soothing - This technique helps you to calm and relax yourself. By incorporating a strong focus on your sensory experience and thought patterns, over time you can develop strategies for remaining calm during stress.
Coping with cravings - Cravings are sometimes unavoidable and can be overwhelming if you don’t have a way to cope with them effectively. This resource will provide you with some techniques to shift your attention away from the cravings until the feeling subsides and you are able to carry on with your day.
Mindful listening - these exercises help to become aware of your surrounding environment and tune in to the sensations you feel. In doing so, mindful listening can clear repetitive and unwanted thoughts that may be affecting your mood.
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Where to get help
In an emergency, dial 000
Contact your local GP
Beyond Blue - 1300 22 4636
Find a service - eCliPSE Service Locator
Kids Helpline - 1800 55 1800
Lifeline - 13 11 14
National Alcohol and Other Drug hotline - 1800 250 015