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Trauma reactions

When something happens that is highly distressing and unexpected, most people will experience a reaction that can be unpleasant, disturbing and potentially overwhelming.

In the majority of cases, this reaction will subside over time as we gradually come to terms with the experience and its effects.

Common reactions to trauma can include:

  • How we think and feel: Feeling tearful, anxious, depressed, helpless, angry or numb, having intrusive thoughts and images
  • Physical reactions: Sleep disturbances, nightmares, sweats, poor concentration, trembling, headaches, digestive complaints and skin rashes
  • How we behave: Avoiding anything to do with the event or conversely compulsively looking for reminders, withdrawing from relationships, increasing the use of alcohol and cigarettes or any significant change in usual behaviour

Allow time to recover

Post Traumatic Stress is a normal reaction to an abnormal event. This does not make it pleasant! Symptoms normally reduce naturally and should have greatly subsided by 4 weeks. It is important to allow time to recover and accept that those affected may not be as efficient and effective as normal. Traumatic events can cause a great deal of shock – then emotional disturbance that may take time to subside.

For many complex reasons, symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress may be more intense and longer lasting.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)  is a formally recognised psychiatric condition which may result from an exposure to a traumatic event. PTSD is identified by characteristic clusters of symptoms:

  • Intrusive recollections of the trauma
  • Intrusive recollections of the trauma
  • Physiological arousal
  • Numbing / withdrawal / avoidance
  • Negative changes in mood and thoughts

Symptoms will have lasted at least a month before a diagnosis of PTSD is made.

PTSD can develop in people of any age following a stressful event or situation of an exceptionally threatening or catastrophic nature. There is life-time prevalence for PTSD of 8% of the adult population. Up to 30% of people experiencing a traumatic event may develop PTSD.

Symptoms of PTSD often develop immediately after the traumatic event but the onset of symptoms may be delayed in around 15% of people.

It is important to remember that PTSD is treatable even when problems present many years after the traumatic event.