Many people have strong emotional or physical reactions following experience of a traumatic event. For most, these reactions subside over a few days or weeks.
For some, the symptoms may last longer and be more severe. This may be due to several factors such as the nature of the traumatic event, the level of available support, previous and current life stress, personality, and coping resources.
Symptoms of trauma can be described as physical, cognitive (thinking), behavioural (things we do) and emotional.
- Physical symptoms can include excessive alertness (always on the look-out for signs of danger), being easily startled, fatigue/exhaustion, disturbed sleep and general aches and pains.
- Cognitive (thinking) symptoms can include intrusive thoughts and memories of the event, visual images of the event, nightmares, poor concentration and memory, disorientation and confusion.
- Behavioural symptoms can include avoidance of places or activities that are reminders of the event, social withdrawal and isolation and loss of interest in normal activities.
- Emotional symptoms can include fear, numbness and detachment, depression, guilt, anger and irritability, anxiety and panic.
As long as they are not too severe or don't last for too long, the symptoms described above are normal reactions to trauma. Although these symptoms can be distressing, they will settle quickly in most people. They are part of the natural healing process of adjusting to a very powerful event, making some sense out of what happened, and putting it into perspective.
With understanding and support from family, friends and colleagues the stress symptoms usually resolve more rapidly. A minority of people will develop more serious conditions such as depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorders, or alcohol and drug problems.