Advice on psychological trauma after disaster

09 september 2017

Reactions after trauma:

After having experienced a situation that had a severe impact, some people have difficulty regulating their emotions such as anger, anxiety, sadness, but also sometimes shame. (“why was I no hero, why did I not help?”) We call an impact like that a (psycho-) trauma. This is more so when the trauma occurred at a young age, when people have experienced a previous trauma, when people were already not functioning well or when they already have mental health problems. In individuals who are older and functioning well prior to the trauma, such emotional dysregulation is usually short-lived and represents an immediate reaction to the trauma, rather than an ongoing pattern. We want to emphasize that these are reactions that belong to  a normal human reaction pattern. They will pass in time (days to weeks).

After a while the experience become a part of our memories. We can remember our emotions and we can remember the situation, but we don’t experience the emotions so forcefully anymore, or experience them at all.

What can you do to handle traumatic stress:

  • Try not to give too much attention to your emotional state. Talking about your experiences is okay but don’t put it to much in focus. Find distraction. Preferably by doing something that needs your attention and brain power. Puzzling, computer gaming, sports, making music, cleaning etc.
  • Try to stay physical active. Hiking and practicing sports while thinking about what has happened is a good way to help your brain to cope.
  • Watch your daily rhythm. Watch over your sleep routine. Don’t stay up too long  or stay in bed too long in the mornings. Sustaining a  healthy and consistent rhythm will help your brain to process the traumatic events.
  • Be careful with the use of psychoactive substances like drugs or alcohol.
    Over all our advice is to try and activate that part of your brain that you use to solve practical problems and mechanical (movement and coordination) actions, and to avoid emotional activities.

When resolving does not progress:

Sometimes the effects of psychotrauma don’t subside by themselves and developed into a disorder. We call this a posttraumatic stress disorder. In fact, it is not the trauma that causes this but the memories of a trauma. The brain was not able to process them because the impact was too severe or it was repeated too often.

In case of a posttraumatic stress disorder you might experience emotional extremes: feeling either too much or too little emotion. You might be feeling afraid, get angry easily, be frightened easily or tend to avoid situations that remind of the traumatic situation. You might experience nightmares that keep you out of your sleep or experience flashbacks during the day. Also you might start using alternative substances like alcohol or drugs to numb your emotions and experience you are no longer able to function in your daily life like you were used to. People who suffer from a posttraumatic stress disorder often experience feelings of guilt (“I should have done something”) or shame (“If I cannot process this experience by myself this means that I am weak”), which can stop them from seeking help. However mental health problems such as posttraumatic stress disorder can occur in any individual, and posttraumatic stress disorder has a good prognosis when given the proper treatment. Therefore we advise you to go and talk to your general practitioner if you are suffering from the above mentioned symptoms. . He or she can determine whether there is a disorder going on and can refer you to a mental health professional for diagnoses and/or treatment.