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Healing From The Storm: What Is Traumatic Stress

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Healing From The Storm: What Is Traumatic Stress

Due to Hurricane Harvey and Irma many people have been traumatized. This is the first in a series of articles Reach Out Recovery will be publishing to help our readers deal with their trauma. The articles will cover what is trauma, the symptoms, physical responses to trauma, and tips to help recover. 

The emotional toll from a traumatic event can cause intense, confusing, and frightening emotions. And these emotions aren’t limited to the people who experienced the event. Round-the-clock news coverage means that we’re all bombarded with horrific images from natural disasters, violent crimes, and terrorist attacks almost the instant they occur anywhere in the world. Repeated exposure can trigger traumatic stress and leave you feeling hopeless and helpless. Whether you were directly involved in the traumatic event or exposed to it after the fact, there are steps you can take to recover your emotional equilibrium and regain control of your life.

What is traumatic stress?

Traumatic stress is a normal reaction to a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, motor vehicle accident, plane crash, shooting, or terrorist attack. Such events are extraordinarily stressful—not just for survivors, but also witnesses and even those repeatedly exposed to the horrific images of the traumatic event circulated on social media and news sources.

In fact, while it’s highly unlikely any of us will ever be the direct victims of a terrorist attack, for example, we’re all regularly bombarded by disturbing images from around the world of those innocent people who have been. Viewing these images over and over can overwhelm your nervous system and create traumatic stress. Your sense of security shatters, leaving you feeling helpless and vulnerable in a dangerous world, especially if the event was manmade, such as a shooting or act of terrorism.

Usually, the unsettling thoughts and feelings of traumatic stress fade as life starts to return to normal over the days or weeks following the event. You can assist the process by keeping the following in mind:

People react in different ways to traumatic events.

There is no “right” or “wrong” way to respond. Don’t tell yourself (or anyone else) what you should be thinking, feeling, or doing.

Avoid obsessively reliving the traumatic event.

Repetitious thinking or viewing horrific images over and over can overwhelm your nervous system, making it harder to think clearly.

Ignoring your feelings will slow recovery.

It may seem better in the moment to avoid experiencing your emotions, but they exist whether you’re paying attention to them or not. Even intense feelings will pass if you simply allow yourself to feel what you feel.

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