Dealing with the Emotional Aftermath of a Life Changing Event

by | Recovery, Trauma

Whether it’s a death in the family, a big change, an injury, or a breakup, the aftermath of a Life-Changing event can be just as difficult to navigate through as the event itself. While the practical side of things can be a bit more obvious and easy to deal with, the emotional fallout can feel messy, long, and the path ahead isn’t always clear, and neither are the results that you might want to see.

Here’s a few things that you can do to help yourself in the aftermath of a Life-Changing event.

1. Normalise

Grief or reactions to traumatic events can take many forms, and doesn’t just effect your feelings. You may experience some of the following changes:

Photo by Rex Pickar on Unsplash

Physical — Tiredness or exhaustion, palpitations, tightness in the chest, headaches, feeling short of breath, aches and pains, feeling too hot or too cold, shaking or trembling, dry mouth, sensitivity to noise, changes in appetite, disturbed sleep, insomnia, immune system changes.

Emotional — Confusion or disorganisation, disinterest or reduced concentration, mood swings, anxiety, agitation, irritation, a lack of patience, despair or helplessness, denial, guilt or blame, relief, anger or aggression, wanting to use unhealthy coping mechanisms, and risk taking.

Social — Loss or change of role, loss of confidence or withdrawal, difficulty socialising, some friends may avoid you and new people may become important to you due to their ability to know what to say.

Spiritual — Questioning your beliefs, deriving strengths from your beliefs, looking to faith for support, anger with beliefs e.g., why this happened.

2. Honour the Impact

Lots of people view life-changing events as something to “get over” so you can “get back on track” as soon as possible. This infers that there is a fixed path for life, and it is your job to get back to that path whenever something happens as soon as possible, and if you don’t, or can’t, there’s something wrong with you and the course your life is taking.

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While this isn’t true, this can create huge feelings of loss and grief for the life that you have left behind, and for the life that you feel like you should have. When something like a breakup, or a death happens, we often mourn the ending of something as much as we’re mourning the loss of a future we thought we had.

Ensure you take the time to honour the impact that this has on your life, and that your life, your expectations, and the path ahead that you felt was clear is very different now. This isn’t a “bump in the road”. You might feel like you’ve been transported, Wizard of Oz style into a completely new world that has nothing in common with the one you had before.

On the flip side, you might find yourself feeling not much at all, and it can be difficult to see people treating you differently because they feel like everything has changed for you, when really, it feels like nothing has changed at all. That’s perfectly okay too.

There is nothing that you should or shouldn’t feel in the aftermath of an event, and it’s perfectly normal to feel relief or even happiness in the time following a big change, especially if the time leading up to it was particularly long and difficult. There is no “should” or “shouldn’t” in loss, grief, or trauma, only what is.

3. Keeping Space

In the aftermath of a life-changing event, it is important to not only allow yourself to experience feelings around it, but to deliberately make space to encourage the process.

This doesn’t just mean taking a few days off work for a hot date with the couch, a blanket, and a bucket of ice cream, followed by packing it away and getting “back to business”.

When grief or trauma is rushed or neglected, it has ways of showing up at other times and in other ways that you may not have control over.

“Keeping space” for processing takes a few forms.

  1. Pace — Recognise that processing a big change is something that is a part of your life. Like hunger, or the need to move your body, it has its own timing, and its own signals that mean you need to take or schedule the time for it to receive attention. There are times when it will need more attention, and times that it will need less, and this process is not always linear.
  2. Places — Reserve places in your life for processing feelings, whether that’s a physical space like a room or a chair, or a journal you can use to jot down things that you’re working through. Keeping a physical space for processing can help keep it contained without stifling it, and can help bring it forward when you want to do some deliberate processing.
  3. Priority — Giving grief or trauma a priority in your life is not a negative thing. It doesn’t need to come first, second, or even third, and its place in your life will certainly change over time, but recognising it as something that’s important for you to experience can help it along far more than trying to push it lower and lower on the list of things you’re willing to think about.
  4. People — There is almost certainly a few people out there who want to help, are good listeners, or who might have similar experiences to you. Find them. Whether it’s a friend, a support group on Facebook, or a therapist, looking to your community for help is a healthy, positive, and helpful thing to do. People who hold their own space open for you will encourage you to deal with what has happened head on, and will encourage you to hold that space open for yourself.

I know that all of these methods of keeping space for something are resources in their own way, and you may not always be able to afford them. In some ways, it is a privilege to be able to grieve or process trauma.

4. Call in the Cavalry

This is the part where I show my bias and tell you that working with professionals who specialise in what you’re going through is a great way to start the process and check in as you navigate things.

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A good therapist doesn’t give you all of the answers and show you how to do this right. They allow you the time and space to process things, guided by their experience and help you find the things that work best for your goals and preferences.

Experiencing grief and trauma is a skillset that no-one wants to be good at. Just like any other skillset that comes from experience, it’s a good idea to enlist people who have those skills.

If you live in the Newcastle, Hunter, or Central Coast Regions, Reflex has a number of counsellors who specialise in grief, loss, and trauma recovery.

About the Author

About Reflex

This article was brought to you by Reflex Response Services, a trauma counselling and support charity based in Newcastle, Australia.

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