How to Deal With Stress And Traumatic Events

On a Thursday morning in June, it was around 1:45 a.m. I recall furiously grasping my blankets when I first awoke. Everything around me was trembling. I was feeling a little off.

I was completely oblivious to what was going on. At first, I believed I was waking up from some sort of nightmare involving an earthquake.

All I knew was that I was terrified, really scared, when I awoke. Then, all of a sudden, I began to hear screaming, followed by sirens, dozens of sirens, in the distance. It was evident at that point that something terrible had occurred.

To observe what was going on outside my bedroom window, I looked outside, but everything was strangely black, with only a few lights flickering like stars through what appeared to be early morning fog.

I dressed and went outside to check what had truly happened after getting my bearings and ensuring that the rest of my family was safe. Everything was covered in a fine coating of grey dust, and the air was still full of tiny bits and pieces of debris drifting around.

I noticed my neighbour standing on the corner in his bathrobe as soon as I stepped outdoors. As if he had just seen a ghost, he was pale and still, his mouth and eyes wide open.

I inquired as to what was going on, and he simply pointed across the street without saying anything. It was the Champlain Towers in Surfside, Florida, and at least half of the condominium seemed to have collapsed on top of itself, all twelve stories clearly still occupied at the time.

I soon found myself standing next to him, speechless and with my mouth agape, my heart sinking deep into my soul.

I knew a lot of lives would be lost. I knew this was going to be bad, very bad.

Although I did not know any of the victims personally, I will never forget seeing so many of them spending time out on their balconies.

The ocean view must have been spectacular, especially at night, in the moonlight. Tragically, the only view that was left early that fateful morning was that of a massive pile of rubble by the sea.

In the days that followed, search and rescue teams from around the world descended on the disaster site with cranes, probes, drones, and dogs in search of any signs of life.

Even the President of the United States stopped by to express his condolences to the victims’ families as well as the first responders who were working nonstop to save lives.

However, despite an exhaustive and valiant search, no other survivors were discovered. Although my suffering does not compare to that of the victims’ families, it remains ingrained in my mind, since I continue to experience worry and intense anguish as a result of the catastrophe.

Through my own personal experience, I have now learned that you do not necessarily have to be the victim of a tragedy to be traumatized by a traumatic event. Sometimes, all you have to do is bear witness to it.

Related: What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and How Does It Work?

What Is Trauma?

So, what exactly is trauma? What impact does it have on you? And how can you properly cope with it?

Trauma is widely understood to be a very stressful or upsetting occurrence. You will almost likely endure a painful incident in your lifetime, just as you will face death and taxes.

You could argue that trauma is just another part of the human experience, alongside all of the beautiful things that life has to offer. In fact, it is believed that 70% of all people have been exposed to at least one traumatic event during their lives.

Emotional abuse, acts of violence, natural disasters, and other stressful situations can all produce trauma.

With that being said, there are essentially two types of trauma:

  • Type 1 trauma refers to a single incident or event, for example, trauma associated with a car accident or a natural disaster like an earthquake.
  • Type 2 trauma refers to a traumatic event that is prolonged and repeated, for example, continued emotional abuse by a bully in school.

Similar to many physical injuries, emotional trauma does leave scars, however, they may not necessarily be visible at the surface. As a matter of fact, symptoms of trauma can actually be both emotional and physical in nature.

The most common emotional symptoms of trauma include feeling numb, angry, anxious, guilty, sad, confused, hopeless, and shameful.

While the most common physical symptoms of trauma include fatigue, poor concentration, poor appetite, overeating, insomnia, hypersomnia, and high blood pressure.

Although most people will be exposed to a traumatic event at some point in their lives, not everyone who is exposed to a traumatic event will be traumatised by it. Nonetheless, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is possibly the most well-known traumatic disorder.

It entails being exposed to actual or threatened death, significant injury, or sexual violence, which can occur either directly or indirectly. The traumatic event is then followed by recurring, involuntary, and intrusive painful recollections and flashbacks of the occurrence.

Many persons with PTSD have trouble building intimate connections and frequently avoid circumstances that remind them of the traumatic event. Irritability, hypervigilance, exaggerated reactivity, sleep difficulties, and self-destructive behaviours such as violence, suicide, and drug misuse are some of the most typical symptoms of PTSD.

I’m not arguing that you should strive to prepare yourself in advance for approaching catastrophe, but rather that you should be prepared to deal with a traumatic incident if it occurs. So, here are five strategies for dealing efficiently with stress caused by traumatic occurrences.

Related: How to Get Rid of Insomnia and Sleep Anxiety

1. Self-Expression

Personally, I’m finding comfort in opening up and sharing my feelings about the catastrophe that tragically happened right in front of my eyes. In reality, writing this article is a healthy way for me to express my feelings constructively, at least in my opinion.

Surprisingly, I still find it difficult to talk about the catastrophe without reliving parts of it in my head. I am, nevertheless, able to write about it with just minor mental distress.

Writing, I believe, has aided me in seeing my world from a more objective and self-nurturing perspective.

And I’m convinced that documenting your emotions could help you or anyone else who has experienced a horrific situation.

If you don’t have the time or patience to write about a painful occurrence you’ve had, you might always attempt conveying your sentiments via art; after all, a picture is worth a thousand words.

2. Counseling

Although the emotional anguish of a terrible experience may never go away completely, I strongly urge counselling in addition to self-expression.

A trauma therapist who is well-trained and compassionately empathetic should be able to help you process your emotions in a productive and emotionally tolerable way.

Counseling has the potential to assist you in safely navigating your way out of the proverbial forest in your mind by providing you with a competent guide to keep you on track.

When it comes to treating trauma patients, eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing therapy, or EMDR, is largely considered as the most commonly accepted clinical viewpoint.

It asserts that after a person experiences a traumatic event, disturbing thoughts, feelings, and images get stuck in the brain, whereby EMDR essentially creates mental pathways to effectively release those disturbances with minimal emotional disruption.

Related: COVID Anxiety and Stress: How to Handle It

3. Meditation

You may have been robbed of your innocence. Your serenity may have been shattered. However, no matter the circumstance, you are still in possession of your soul, which in my humble opinion is the gatekeeper of your emotions.

Meditation can help you dig deep inside yourself to find a deeper sense of inner calm, giving your soul the emotional nutrients it needs to shield itself from negative energy.

Meditation, along with other non-medicinal supplementary therapies, has been found to considerably improve severe PTSD symptoms in troops who have returned from battle. 

So put away all of the electronics (yes, you can do it), as well as all of the things that you need to take care of for everyone else in your life, and prepare to take a much-needed mental health time all to yourself, at no additional expense, other than a few minutes.

Start off by finding a safe quiet spot in your home, maybe somewhere on the floor of your bedroom, perhaps near a window. Take off your shoes, sit down slowly, cross your legs, and then gently rest your arms on top of your thighs with your palms up to the sky.

Keep your back straight and close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths and begin to shut down your conscious mind, while gently embracing the healing power of the serenity that now surrounds you.

You are welcome to stay there as long as you like. Just make sure that you’re not late to work.

4. Exercise

Regular exercise can help reduce the stress associated with trauma by pumping up the production of endorphins, neurotransmitters in your brain that help regulate your mood.

Additionally, cardiovascular exercise improves circulation which is essential for optimal health by providing adequate blood flow and oxygen to all of the organs in the body, thereby keeping your heart healthy, and your mind sharp so that you process your feeling with greater clarity.

Lastly, as you tone your body and shed unwanted pounds, exercise ultimately helps build self-esteem, one of the most potent antidotes against symptoms of trauma.

Related: Ways to Motivate Yourself to Exercise

5. Connection

One of the most typical symptoms connected with trauma is avoidance. People who have been through terrible circumstances typically avoid interacting with others in order to avoid more stress.

Unfortunately, because people are social beings at their core, ignoring one another may unknowingly deprive us of the potential to live a full and productive life.

People who have been subjected to emotional, physical, or sexual abuse as children typically find it difficult to trust others and, as a result, to build solid interpersonal relationships as adults.

As a result, I strongly recommend anyone who has experienced any type of trauma, at any point in their lives, to join a support group with others who have gone through something similar. There is power in numbers when it comes to properly dealing with trauma.

Related: Stress Management Techniques for a Stress-Free Life

Final Thoughts

Finally, trauma is an unavoidable element of the human condition. At some point in your life, you will almost certainly be exposed to a horrific event. To put it another way, it is unavoidable. 

If you spend the rest of your life attempting to avoid painful occurrences, you can lose out on a lot of the wonderful things that life has to offer.

The good news is that you can heal from trauma’s emotional and physical effects, albeit it will take time and, in many circumstances, a lot of effort.

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