What Should I do if I’m Exposed to a Traumatic Situation?

by | Support, Trauma, Vicarious Trauma

This post contains non-specific descriptions of traumatic events, and trauma responses.

Firstly, I want to take a second.

If you’ve recently been exposed to a traumatic event, I’m sorry. This is a tough situation to be in, and it’s a really great thing that you’ve already recognised that it’s important to equip yourself with the information and tools you need to navigate this.

Most people will experience a traumatic event at some point in their lives. It is a very normal part of life. It’s important for you to know that you are not alone in your experience. The aftermath of a traumatic event can be difficult and even feel downright strange.

What happens in the aftermath of a traumatic experience?

Most people have strong physical and emotional reactions for days and weeks following a traumatic experience. This is totally normal and is the brain’s way of processing what has happened, and return to a baseline state.

Some of these symptoms include:

1. Physical

Disturbed sleep, being easily startled, being constantly alert, fatigue and exhaustion, muscle aches and general pain.

2. Emotional

Fear, numbness, detachment, sadness, guilt, shame, anger, worry, irritability.

3. Cognitive

Brain fog, intrusive thoughts and memories, nightmares, problems with memory and concentration, visual images of what happened, disorientation

4. Behavioural

Avoidance of the place it happened or where you went immediately after, isolation, loss of interest in normal activities, social withdrawal.

Experiencing some or all of these is the way a brain heals, adjusts, and makes sense out of what has happened.

Something has just happened. What should I do?

  1. Look After Your Immediate Needs

In response to a traumatic event, your body will likely get a huge dose of adrenaline. This puts you on high alert and helps you respond to emergency situations – usually in the form of fight or flight. During this time, make yourself as safe as possible. It is perfectly fine to wait for these immediate feelings to pass before doing anything else.

2. Debrief

Find company and a safe place if you can and have a brief chat about what’s happened. Best if you can do this with someone who has experience in trauma aftermath, but it’s better to do it quickly than to hold out waiting for one.

2 women sitting on black sofa

3. Routine

As much as you are able to,try to stay to your normal daily routine. Be gentle with yourself if you find you have less energy than normal – your brain is working overtime trying to process what’s going on.

4. Note what’s going on

You might experience some, none, or all of the things I’ve listed above. Make a note in your phone about what you’re experiencing, but try to give yourself as much grace and space as you can to ride it out. Getting things onto paper helps make sense of what’s going on, and also lets you see how far you’ve come.

4. Maintain social contact

It is very easy to let social contact go to the wayside in times like this. Make sure you’re not isolating yourself – ask loved ones to continue checking in if there’s radio silence from your end.

5. Prioritise your needs

Especially sensory and social ones. Just like you’d heal a physical wound, comfort and time is so important. Spend as much time as you can focussing on your sleep, diet, movement, and comfort.

white and gray bed sheet

6. Call in professional help

You do not need to be actively distressed or suffering to access help from someone who is qualified and equipped to help you with your mental health. Bringing in someone who can listen to you and help you navigate what’s going on can prevent you getting to a really tough spot, so the earlier you get others involved, the better.

About the Author

Alicia Louise she/they Alicia is a founder of Reflex, a mental health educator, and a lived-experience advocate. She has a special interest in the intersection of mental health and community care. In her down time, she enjoys art, music, and design.

About Reflex

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

If you’d like more information about our services, visit http://reflex.org.au, sign up to our newsletter, and follw us on social media.

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