Experiencing Trauma

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What is trauma

Grief and loss may trigger a traumatic reaction. Trauma is a result of either direct or indirect exposure to a frightening and overwhelming event; where the person is unable to process the event or give meaning to it. This may include a person experiencing a death as violent and horrific, outside the norm and/or they witnessed the death. Some examples of this includes, an unexpected or sudden death such as suicide, death of a child,  of a partner, a murder, a natural disaster or if the death is seen as preventable.
The body’s natural reaction to trauma is to trigger a survival response in the brain – ‘flight/fight or freeze’ reaction. This system is designed to protect us from a potential threat from harm, as we no longer feel safe. Everyone’s response is different and people will usually just react, rather than having time to think about it. For example, people may notice in ‘fight’ mode, they yell and scream at someone for pushing them to do something they don’t want to do. If people default to ‘flight’ mode, they may leave an event because they feel awkward as they don’t know anyone. If people default to ‘freeze’ mode, they may go blank when feeling uncomfortable talking to a group of people.
If you have been through a traumatic event, as a result of loss or grief and would find it helpful to to speak with someone please call GriefLine. We have trained skilled volunteers who are ready to listen and work with you to unpack what is happening for you during this time.

What are the signs of trauma

Given everyone experiences difference, below are some signs and symptoms of trauma:

  • Confusion
  • shock
  • Disbelief 
  • Despair 
  • Anger
  • Not able to make any sense of what has occured
  • Rage
  • Low mood 
  • Feelings of anxiety
  • Fear of losing control 
  • Panic 
  • Helplessness 
  • Guilt
  • Withdrawal
  • Loss of motivation and interest in the outside world
  • Crying and sobbing at unexpected times or places and not knowing why. 

These are all natural and normal human responses to a traumatic experience and everyone’s experience of grief, loss and/or trauma is completely individual. 

Working with trauma

When a person experiences a trauma, there may be many confusing emotions, thoughts, or there may be an absence of thoughts or emotions or a numbness associated with the experience/s. What is central to the experience of trauma is that none of the experience makes sense at the time or for some time following the experience. As a result of this, there may also be feelings of confusion, disbelief, despair, low mood, feelings of anxiety, fear of losing control, panic, helplessness, guilt, loss of motivation and interest in the outside world, amongst other responses. You may find yourself crying and sobbing at unexpected times or places and not know why. These are all natural and normal human responses to a traumatic experience and everyone’s experience of grief, loss and/or trauma is completely individual. 

Some people find that they are able to work through their traumatic experience with a trusted friend/s or family members who understand, or who may have also experienced a similar experience or have gone through the same experience. Others may find formal psychological support useful in working through what has occurred. Whatever you choose, take the time to work out whether any of these supports are a good fit for you and if you find they are not, take the time to look around and find another friend, with whom you may more easily relate and/or other formal psychological support, where you feel heard and supported to work through your trauma experience. 

You may also find it useful to speak with an organisation, like GriefLine and work with a trained volunteer counsellor in relation to your experience of loss, grief and associated trauma. During this time, it is also important that you look after yourself and following the EAST approach, may be helpful:

Eating: ensure you eat regularly and healthily, increase your water intake during the day and limit alcohol and other illicit drugs

Activities: restart activities, which you enjoyed prior to this loss, including some type of daily exercise

Sleeping: ensure that you go to bed at the same time, which you would have done prior to this loss and avoid eating high sugar foods or a large meal or consuming any alcohol or other illicit drugs, at least two hours prior to sleep. 

Time: spend time with trusted friends and family or reach out to a counselling and/or helpline service to work with you on your experience of loss.