Emotional and psychological trauma is the direct result of very unusually stressful events that tend to fracture our sense of safety and security. These events, like the tragic bombings in Boston this week, leave us feeling vulnerable and scared. It rocks our foundation and makes us doubt our previously-held beliefs about feeling secure in our own country. Trauma short-circuits our normal fear response mechanism and spikes it to abnormal levels. So people stay keyed-up and highly anxious all the time. However, following traumatic events, people are affected in different ways and experience a wide range of physical and emotional reactions. There is no right or wrong way to be experiencing such a horrific event.
The symptoms people typically experience after an event of this magnitude are flashbacks (vivid reproductions of the event) or the recurrent re-experiencing of the trauma, frightening memories, nightmares. They experience numbness or an emotional disconnectedness to others. They are easily startled, they experience hypersensitivity, edginess, irritability, difficulty concentrating, excessive worry, fearfulness and avoidance of places, things, people and anything that reminds them of the trauma. For example, the name Boston or the word "marathon" or the specific date that it occurred may induce an emotional negative resonance for quite some time. When they hear or experience these associations to the events, it's like opening up the wound again and re-experiencing it all over again.
Specifically, in the direct aftermath of a traumatic event, oftentimes people suffer what is called acute stress disorder (ASD). But consequently, most of the time this will escalate into a more common condition called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a very invasive psychological disorder that negatively affects the neurological system of the brain. It may develop after a traumatic experience that involves actual threatened death and/or threat of serious personal injury or that involves witnessing threatened death and serious personal injury to others.
When to Seek Help
If you are having trouble functioning at home or work and you see you have impairment in your ability to perform daily routines and tasks of daily living. If you have excessive worry, panic attacks and symptoms of depression, isolation, emotional numbness and many of the symptoms mentioned above, you may want to seek professional help.
Get counseling from trained professionals in trauma therapy and grief and loss therapy. There are excellent treatments out there today that are very effective. And remember, grief is a normal reaction to abnormal events -- the more you talk about it, the better you get.
There are many different kinds of trauma therapy. But most involve the process of debriefing the account of the event via verbal communication with a trauma specialist. This helps to gradually de-catastrophize the experience and begin to reduce the severity of the symptoms. The debriefing or reviewing of the account also helps to restructure thoughts by re-authoring and re-interpreting the account with new language and new images. Over time, these techniques help to stabilize individuals and restore emotional stability again.
In addition, don't rush or try to accelerate the process of healing. This may be a long road that needs to run its course. Also, initiate self-care, give yourself compassion. Try to do kind things for yourself one time per day. Surround yourself with loved ones and allow yourself to receive the support that you need. This is not a time to try and go at this alone.
Also, try to reestablish some kind of normalcy in your life, do everyday tasks, but break the tasks into small ones. This will help to inspire reassurance and solidity again in your life. Avoid alcohol and illicit drugs as a way to self-medicate.
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