Self Help - Trauma, a Guide To Understanding And Dealing With Severe Stress

There are 'no coincidences' in life and a chain of events found me at Andrews retreat 160 miles away . Instantly upon meeting Andrew I felt a relief from a long term problem was achievable. Andrews method became a life changing intervention . Andrew will feature more in my future life I know.

Paul Green

What Can Cause a Traumatic Reaction?

Most of the time life can go on without there being any major upsets to deal with. However, when something very frightening or upsetting happens the people involved can be extremely unsettled.

As a result of various awful events over the last twenty years or so there has been an increased awareness of how trauma can affect people. In addition to the war in Vietnam there has been the conflict in the Falklands and the Gulf war. Other disasters include the Kings Cross fire, the deaths at Hillsborough football stadium, the capsize of the ferry at Zeebrugge and the rail crash at Paddington Station. It may surprise you to know that most traumatic reactions are the result of incidents that do not get reported in the press. These include things like some medical procedures, car crashes, being attacked, tormented or abused. Indeed, road traffic accidents and assaults are the most common causes of post traumatic reactions.

When people have difficulty getting over the effects of an upsetting and frightening event this is often referred to as a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This does not mean that the person has a mental illness. It is a way of describing a severe emotional reaction. The term PTSD covers a range of problems that can develop after a person has been involved in a traumatic event.

Why Are Some Events Traumatising?

In general, there are two reasons why an event can be traumatising. The event can be simply terrifying and shatter your view of the world. As well as this, for an event to be upsetting it has to affect you personally. There may well be things that upset you more than they would other people. For instance, these might include things like feeling helpless, being concerned about the well being of children or being afraid of being left alone in pain.

What can happen?

Initial reactions can include:

  • feeling numb or shocked;
  • disbelief, thinking or hoping it is just a bad dream or that it did not really happen;
  • feeling an uncharacteristic dread or fear;
  • flashbacks, which involve “reliving the event”, sights, sounds, smells, pain and emotional distress can all be felt as if the event had just happened;
  • intrusive thoughts, going over and over what happened, wishing you could have done something differently.

People do not like having flashbacks or upsetting memories and it is natural for them to try and block them out. As a result people may:

  • keep busy or try to distract themselves;
  • feel too upset to concentrate on other things, which can lead to forgetfulness;
  • want to be left alone for long periods;
  • start drinking or use street drugs to block things out.

“After being in a nasty car crash it took me a long time to get used to driving again. At first I would just sit in the car without even trying to go anywhere. After a while I could do this without having flashbacks. I then started to drive short distances, but only when the roads were quiet. Once I felt comfortable doing this I began going on longer journeys and then on busier roads”.

With time memories will tend to intrude less often. Yet, they can be triggered by reminders of the event. People will often avoid obvious reminders. These might include, the place where it happened or meeting other people who were involved. At times memories can be triggered by minor events and the person may not be aware why they are suddenly feeling anxious or frightened.

Secondary Problems

Avoiding situations for too long can cause further problems. The longer something difficult has been avoided the harder it becomes to deal with. It can also be harder if you have not let on how upset you actually are and your friends or family think that you have got over it. There are also problems that arise if your lifestyle is disrupted for too long. So, if you are not sleeping well, drinking too much and avoiding doing things then it is likely that you will become increasingly miserable, irritable and depressed. This decline can be like a vicious circle. You may feel that you are a different person and your relationships may suffer.

What To Do

Just reading this is a start. You need to know that extreme reactions to traumatic events are part of a normal response and it does not mean that you are going mad.

It can help to talk over the detail of what happened but sometimes this is too much and can be re-traumatising. It might be easier to think about why the situation got to you in the way it did and see if this links in with any other experiences you may have had. What you do has to be your choice.

The Future

If there are situations that you will really need to face again then it is best to face them as soon as you can. However, do make this easy on yourself. Take things one step at a time and make sure your feeling comfortable with each step before moving on to the next. Using relaxation techniques or a relaxation tape may well help.

Trauma Further Reading


A Terrible Thing Happened
Margaret M. Holmes, Cary Pillo

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David Baldwin's Trauma Information Pages... an excellent and extremely popular award-winning site. Particularly informative and useful for professionals and researchers.

Trauma Centre Site, excellent, informative and numerous links. A good first port of call.

A site with large amounts of information and resources, forums, chat, newsletter and links.

A PTSD forum offering support, information, with a chat room.

Agencies Offering Help

CRUSE: (cares for bereaved people)
Telephone: 0191 384 2313

Rape Crisis: (A free and confidential service for women)
Telephone: 01325 369933

Gulf Veterans Association:
Telephone: 0191 230 1065