We are taught so many life lessons, but not how to deal with trauma and crisis – both of which are inevitable. At some point in time you, or someone you know will experience trauma or crisis. Unfortunately, we are not prepared to handle such situations. Some of us are less prepared to support people who are going through such situations. It is very difficult to address anything when you cannot properly if you cannot identify what it is. Lets go over what trauma and crisis are, and discuss some things that can be done.
Trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea. While these feelings are normal, some people have difficulty moving on with their lives.
Crisis occurs when unusual stress temporarily renders an individual unable to direct life effectively. As the stress mounts and the usual coping mechanisms provide neither relief no remedy, the person often experiences extreme feelings of grief, hostility, helplessness, hopelessness, and alienation from self, family and society. Stress can be a reaction to a single event or to several events occurring simultaneously or serially Greenstone, J. L., & Leviton, S. (2011). Crisis can occur when a loved one gets sick, or divorce, death, loss of employment. Sometimes these life altering events happen all at once or in tandem. The stress of keeping things afloat through the crisis can become dangerous when it appears there is no resolution in sight and energy steadily depletes.
When we don’t recognize what trauma and crisis looks like, we cannot manage it; nor can we provide effective support to our loved ones. It can be difficult and debilitating; therefore, we cannot expect someone to just “get over it.” This statement can cause further alienation. The fight for normalcy and consistency after a traumatic even or crisis can last for a long period of time, depending on what caused it. Healing is not linear. We cannot place a timeline on healing and expect to be over a traumatic event or crisis after a predetermined amount of time. It doesn’t work that way. It’s a dichotomy of reality. The survivor must go on in every day life: the world around them has not changed, but inside, they have changed and have trouble reconciling having survived the event and moving on. Their perception changes as the experience becomes a part of them after the experience disrupted their life as they knew it. Therefore, it is difficult for them to find equilibrium between their experience, identity and environment.
Triggers are a common occurrence for survivors of trauma and crisis. The effects can come and go much like an ocean tide or it can be like spontaneous reaction to anything like a certain smell, or sound (like a song playing), texture etc. The senses can trigger a flash back causing the survivor to relive the trauma or crisis all over again. This can last indefinitely and can leave others confused and bewildered at the behavior of a survivor who was fine one minute but is not the next. Someone who exhibits this behavior should be treated with patience and compassion because reliving a traumatic moment is not something anyone can just “get over.”
What can we do?
- Changing the way we look at the situation is key: this is not the type of situation someone can just get over and survivors may need more than just time to heal.
- Identify triggers: instead of reacting to the survivor’s reaction, ask them what just happened/what changed and listen to what they have to say.
- Ground them. Triggers make the survivor relive the trauma. Getting the survivor to recognize the here and now will bring them out of reliving the moment. A simple way to do that is to get the survivor to run cold water on their hands. I have provided a resource for other quick grounding techniques below.
- Suggest they talk to someone. There are free 24hr services provided for people in crisis or have suffered trauma via phone or via text.
This time of year can onset crisis or trauma whether it be the anniversary of the death of a loved one, or traumatic event like an assault. Check on one another, and keep in mind there are free confidential resources that are accessible 24 hours a day if needed. If you have any questions, concerns, or anything to add, please comment below. Be well.