How to Survive After Trauma – 11 Things I Wish I Knew Sooner

How to Survive After Trauma, Image Credit

[Editor’s note: I figured this was an appropriate topic to discuss riht now considering the recent disaster caused by Hurricane Harvey. Remember that no matter how strong or prepared you feel you are, anyone could find themselves or a loved one struggling with the emotional aftereffects of a trauma, particularly a disaster.]

Would I call it haunting? Yes.

For a long time the image of the gun in front of my father’s face was etched in my mind. It’s not what you expect when you open the door for a loved one.

Intruders gained access to the premises and our safety was compromised.

The time during the ordeal is blank in my mind.

Somehow the authorities were called. Somehow my father got away. A few exceptional law men caught the perpetrators and got back our car.

No one was hurt. But how do you cope after a gun was held to your head? How do you explain the feeling of seeing a loved one in mortal danger?

How do you cope with the aftermath of a traumatic experience?

What if an attack, accident or other traumatic event leaves you with too many questions? The result could prevent you from functioning normally. If this continues you may even face medical challenges. When psychological challenges start intervening with normal functioning you run the risk of developing a psychological disorder which isn’t ideal during disasters or, worse, SHTF.

But you can stop it. Here are a few tips I know can empower you.

I Haven’t Experienced Trauma – Why is This Important?

Safety tips help to keep you as safe as possible, but nothing is guaranteed. If you really want to be prepared you must consider any eventuality. This includes possible trauma after disaster.

Surviving the aftermath (and associated trauma) is as important as getting through the disaster itself so that you can return to a normal way of life again.

  1. Accept Your Reaction as Normal

One emotion at a time is hard enough to handle for some. Now imagine experiencing many emotions all at once.

This is what happens after traumatic events. You can feel:

  • Rage at the perpetrators
  • Fear that the criminals will return
  • Hurt that someone took advantage of you
  • Embarrassment because you weren’t prepared
  • Grieving for lost items after a robbery or disaster

Some of these will happen in phases but they have the tendency to overlap and can overwhelm you easily.

This is normal.

When we believe we’re acting out of character we may fight these emotions, but they’re all necessary. You have to feel and work through them. Don’t deny yourself experiencing all of these emotions.

2. Talk About It

So how do you start dealing with the emotions? Talking is your best weapon.

You have to be desensitized from the experience. You can do this by talking:

  • Hear what happened from your own point of view
  • Hear what others experienced if they were involved
  • Hear about others’ challenges

These situations are traumatic because they (luckily) don’t happen often. When you talk about it the event becomes more general. The trauma is alleviated.

3. Know You’re Unique

Your general feelings will align with many other people’s experiences, but you’re still unique:

  • You may be upset about something no one else finds significant.
  • You may remember details no one else noticed.
  • You may take longer than others to work through the trauma.

If you don’t accept your unique reactions you’ll prevent a full recovery. You can’t rush through your recovery process if you need in depth help on a certain aspect. Your recovery process must be customized to help you with your unique challenges.

4. Forgive Yourself

My father felt guilty for months. He felt he put us in danger. He was even mad at our reactions. But some of our reactions were based on our concern for him.

What else were we supposed to do? We all did our best in the circumstances.

A lot of our anger is wrapped up in what we think of our own actions. If we stay mad at ourselves we won’t move past other psychological challenges.

5. Become Prepared

After the ordeal my father’s new found peace came from renewed vigilance.

Never again did he want to feel like “I should have done more.” This change in attitude led to changes in many aspects of our lives.

Part of being prepared includes:

  • Show you’re ready to defend yourself and your family. Criminals back off when they’re not sure of being in control.
  • Waste their time. Burglars don’t want to stay on the scene too long because the risk of getting caught increases.
  • Showcase your vigilance. If criminals expect a strong defense they will look for another target.
  • Be confident. I’m not saying be aggressive. This can lead to unnecessary conflict. But criminals want victims to submit. If they see they can’t manipulate someone they may leave sooner.

Weapons

None of us used weapons before the break in. This all changed after our traumatic event.

Today we’re kitted out. And, yes, there are legal ways of protecting yourself.

You can easily arm yourself to help be and feel prepared:

  • Keep pepper spray on your key chain. Attackers may see it and will probably go elsewhere and, at the very least, you have it readily available to use.
  • Pepper spray in your car is great too. If you know you have something to ward off someone then you won’t feel at the mercy of an attacker.
  • Place necessary items all over your home or office, such as:
    • Flashlights
    • Pepper spray (or other self defense items)
    • A baseball bat

All of this communicates to intruders you’re prepared but also helps you be better prepared too.

[Editor’s note: pepper spray and other self defense options are useful to consider–I know I have them too–but they’re no substitute for firearms when it truly comes to defending your life.]

Premises

Make sure your home is as safe as possible.

Assumptions are your enemy. Criminals can pick nearly any lock and will find a way into private areas quicky. Make it difficult for them to do so with security doors and grilles as they do wonders.

Remember: If it’s going to take too long to get past a security barrier a burglar may very well move on.

[Editor’s note: surveillance is a great deterrent too… if criminals know they’re being watched and recorded they may choose to move on as well.]

Actions

Change how you act. For example, you can be more:

  • Assertive
  • Conscious of your surroundings
  • Organized and prepared

If you’re in a rush or distracted you’ll neglect valuable safety measures, even simple ones like remembering to lock your doors each time you leave.

How did these Preparations Help us Survive After Trauma?

Part of the trauma was the feeling of being powerless. To recover we had to feel in control again. Each action helped us counter fear and uncertainty.

6. Deal With Your Dreams

Your dreams will tell you what’s bothering you:

What do you dream about?

Who are you mad at in your dreams?

Who is with you in your dreams?

Your dreams can serve as a source for answers. But bad dreams can’t keep haunting you forever. This can result in physical and psychological problems.

Learn

Learn about your concerns by writing down your dreams. You’ll identify problem areas such as:

  • Rage towards yourself
  • Rage towards others
  • Situations you fear

If you know what’s bothering you then you can find answers faster.

Any stress in your life can make these problems feel worse. You have to manage your life as well as the residue of the trauma.

How do you do this?

Stop Dreaming

You don’t want bad dreams to plague you forever. When you’re in need of some good sleep try these tips:

  1. Write down the main events of your day before you get into bed. If you know what causes general stress your subconscious doesn’t have to tell you about it in your sleep.
  2. Write down main responsibilities for the next day before you sleep. Once again this reduces general stress.

[Editor’s note: I’m not quite sure how these tips directly relate to getting over trauma but there may be something to be said for using these techniques to help alleviate general stress during a disaster.]

Lie down with your eyes closed. Don’t sleep. Let your thoughts go and see what surfaces. Write down what bothers you about your day or any traumatic event. Write down what you want to do about each problem. By bringing these problems to light then your dreams become less powerful.

7. Find an Outlet

Stress and fear are closely connected with energy in your body.

Stress and fear cause adrenaline to be secreted which puts your body on alert so it can handle pressure such as to fight or run away.

After a traumatic event (such as a natural disaster) your body can be in a perpetual state of readiness. This isn’t healthy.

When your body is overwhelmed with these feelings and hormones you may feel:

  • Pain in your head or shoulders
  • Overwhelmed by small everyday tasks
  • Emotional for no reason

Help your body expel the energy and tension. For instance, a new hobby may be in order. You can:

  • Do a sport such as running or cycling
  • Go to the gym more
  • Dance
  • Do breathing exercises

Your instinct will be to rest as you may feel fatigued as a result of trauma. You need a balance between exercise and rest to fully recover.

8. Ask the Professionals

Will your pride keep you from recovery?

Many people see it as a sign of weakness to visit a professional for help but that’s not true at all. In fact, you can ask many types of professionals for help, including:

  • Yoga instructors help alleviate stress
  • Doctors can help diagnose and medicate stress
  • Psychologist and therapists help deal with trauma
  • Homeopaths offer natural products to help you sleep

To get past the trauma as quick as possible use the resources available to you.

[Editor’s note: There’s no shame is asking for help! That said, many of these resources may not be immediately available to you after a disaster.]

9. Look Out for Warning Signals

How stubborn are you? Will you listen to friends or family’s advice? If you know you won’t allow others to tell you what to do the responsibility lies with you. What will you do when you:

  • Become agitated for no reason
  • Have panic attacks
  • Black out for short periods
  • Have to be conscious of danger signals.

Have a plan in place. Find a doctor you know you can trust. Have the doctor’s contact details on hand at all times. You never know when you may need it.

If you prefer privacy no one has to know you asked for professional help.

[Editor’s note: Again, this is good to know and do when society is functioning normally but if/when a major disaster strikes such as Hurricane Harvey, a doctor you can trust may not be immediately available. That’s why it’s a good idea to locate and even to establish a relationship with such people before disaster strikes.]

10. Stop Generalizing

Many traumatic events involved other people:

Did they attack you physically?

Was there emotional abuse?

Did someone directly cause the trauma indirectly (such as a car accident)?

It’s easy to generalize regarding traumatic events. You may feel you never want to associate with a certain type of person again if you’ve been assaulted in order to protect yourself from future traumatic events.

How will you continue relationships with people if you judge people before you get to know them?

Your recovery’s purpose is to help you function well again. If you pull away from a certain group of society you’ll miss out on many experiences. It may even hinder normal functioning at work or in social environments.

This may be a subconscious reaction. As such, you have to:

  • Be aware of your actions and reactions towards people
  • Realize when you become prejudiced
  • Consciously place yourself in the company of such people
  • Start being desensitized to that group

Your brain remembers negative impulses better than positive ones. It will take a few positive experiences to counter the one traumatic event you went through. Don’t rob yourself of healthy interactions with people.

11. Use Organic Help

All of the tension you’re feeling as a result of a traumatic event certainly has an impact on your body. Strained bodies become sick and weak. This can be because of too little sleep and/or constant strain.

Momentary trauma and prolonged stress can decrease your body’s ability to fight against sickness. Your body will handle stress up to a point before showing the effects of it, including:

  • Flu symptoms
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches

Your fight is physical as well as psychological. Help your body survive the physical impact by follow a nutritious diet and supplementing your diet with vitamins and minerals. For example, magnesium helps fight the effects of stress.

Conclusion

Do you need this now or are you preparing for possible future events? Ask yourself how much you want to return to normal functioning. Conscious decisions—that will result in positive change—are necessary. Don’t take a chance and simply believe you’ll recover. We often don’t realize the effect of trauma until it’s too late. You must make specific adjustments to ensure a worthwhile future.

Author Bio

John Stuart is a content marketer working alongside Attenborough Door, manufacture and install a wide range of automatic doors across the UK.

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