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What is trauma and its causes?

Sometimes in life we may face very frightening situations which we can find very overwhelming and distressful. It may be a situation where something is directly happening to you or an incident you witness. For example, being physically harmed by someone or seeing a road traffic accident. When the feelings after an event continue to impact our thoughts and sensations, we call it trauma. 

Trauma involves re-living an event long after it happened, as though it is still happening and could have a significant impact on your day-to-day life. 

Trauma can be caused by a number of incidents including: 

  • Receiving bad or shocking news 
  • A near death experience 
  • A natural disaster such as flooding or fires 
  • Difficult experiences in early childhood 
  • Physical or sexual violence 
  • Witnessing a violent incident or assault 
  • Seeing someone die 

Trauma varies from person to person therefore not everyone who experiences or witnesses these incidents are affected the same way.

How do I know if I am traumatised?

The feelings of distress may not occur right after the traumatic event. After the incident you may feel absolutely fine and it may take a while before you feel impacted by what you experienced or witnessed. It may take months or even years later before you develop any noticeable emotional and/or physical reactions. Some of the signs are:

  • Sleeping difficulties
  • Problems in concentration
  • Nightmares connected to the trauma
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Always being prepared for something negative to happen / feeling a tense and anxious dread (hyper vigilance)
  • No longer feeling pleasure doing activities you used to enjoy
  • Feeling low of energy and demotivated.
  • Feeling that you are to blame for the traumatic incident.

How to look after yourself

After you’ve experienced a traumatic situation, you can build coping strategies:

  • Talk to a counsellor to help you process your trauma and make sense of the difficult experience.
  • Learn some grounding techniques. Tell yourself that you are safe, name the items around you that you can see, hold an object that reminds you that you are present.
  • Create your own self-care box which includes items that help you to ground yourself when you’re feeling triggered.
  • Write down your negative thoughts and feelings then tear it up
  • Listen to music or watch a TV show that puts you in a good mood.
  • Try breathing techniques to help you feel calm. Download the Calm app for guided breathing exercises or you can watch a YouTube clip.
  • If you’re feeling overwhelmed with emotions and need someone to talk to, you can get in touch with 24/7 support services such as Samaritans (116 123) and Childline (0800 1111).

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