Unlocking Our Understanding of Trauma

Unlocking Our Understanding of Trauma

How to Understand and Support People Exposed to Trauma

The 27th June 2019 is global PTSD Awareness Day. Championed by Australian charities such The Australian Resource Centre for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Picking up the Peaces, PTSD awareness day aims to build awareness and reduce stigma around PTSD.

Trauma exposure and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can have devastating effects for the survivors and their loved ones. After being exposed to a traumatic event, people can struggle to feel safe in the world again, feeling overwhelmed, angry, guilty, sad, and terrified. Careers can be destroyed, relationships strained, and people can feel like they’ve lost themselves. Most people associate PTSD or trauma only with war veterans, crimes or violence. However, people can be effected by trauma for many different reasons, and it impacts more individuals than people think.

Therefore, this month our wellbeing message is focused on understanding trauma and how to support yourself or others that are affected by it.

Key Statistics

(Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics and SANE)

  • 1.4 million Australians have PTSD
  • Around 25% of people exposed to traumatic events will develop PTSD
  • 12% of people living in Australia will experience PTSD in their lifetime.
  • Serious car accidents are the leading cause of PTSD in Australia

What is Trauma?

Trauma is the reaction to a traumatic event where an individual perceives they are, or someone else is, at risk of harm or death.

Traumatic events can include:

  • Natural disasters
  • Terrorist attacks
  • Abuse – emotional, physical, psychological, sexual
  • Childhood neglect
  • Witnessing the abuse of someone else
  • Car accidents
  • Witnessing or being a victim of crime
  • The death of a loved one
  • A friend or family member has been exposed to trauma

Common Trauma Reactions

If you, or someone you know has been exposed to a traumatic event, it is normal to see the following reactions:

#1. Re-experiencing the traumatic event

  • intrusive and upsetting memories of the event
  • flashbacks (feeling or acting like the event is happening again)
  • nightmares (either of the event or frightening things)
  • feelings of intense distress when reminded of the trauma
  • intense physical reactions to reminders of the event (e.g. pounding heart, rapid breathing, nausea, muscle tension, sweating)

#2. Avoiding reminders of the trauma/numbing

  • Avoiding activities, thoughts, places, feelings that remind you of the traumatic event
  • Inability to remember parts of the traumatic event
  • Loss of interest in activities you enjoyed prior to the event
  • Feeling detached, like nothing is real
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Not feeling positive about having a future

#3. Hyperarousal (increased anxiety and heightened emotions)

  • difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • irritability or outbursts of anger
  • difficulty concentrating
  • hypervigiliance (on high alert)
  • feeling jumpy and easily startled
  • Mood swings

In children, trauma reactions often appear as:

  • Wetting the bed
  • Forgetting how to or being unable to talk
  • Acting out the scary event during play time
  • Being unusually clingy to the caregiver

After a traumatic event, your brain or body goes into shock as you try to make sense of what happened and process the emotions around it. These trauma symptoms usually develop in the hours or days following a traumatic event. However, sometimes it can take weeks, months or even years before symptoms appear. 

It is important to know that these are all normal reactions to abnormal events. Trauma reactions are not weaknesses, they are your brain’s understandable reaction to a horrific event. 

Does Trauma Exposure Guarantee PTSD?

Lots of research shows that most people who are exposed to a traumatic event don’t develop PTSD. Trauma reactions will usually fade within 4 weeks of exposure to the traumatic event. In fact, research shows that you are 65% more likely to return to normal functioning, or even have improved functioning after exposure to a traumatic event. This is called post-traumatic growth. 

However, unfortunately trauma exposure can lead to the development of PTSD, where the trauma reactions outlined above last for longer than 4 weeks. PTSD is remaining in a state of psychological shock. Trauma reactions don’t gradually decrease, they often become more severe.
How people respond to traumatic differently depends on a variety of factors such as the nature of the event, and how long it went on for. Risk factors for developing PTSD are:
  • Previous traumatic experiences
  • Family history of PTSD or depression
  • History of abuse
  • History of substance abuse
  • History of depression, anxiety or mental health difficulties
  • High levels of stress
  • Lack of support
  • Lack of coping skills

Left untreated, PTSD can lead to other mental health difficulties such as depression, anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, gastric disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes, and reduced immune system. Due to the severity of the experiences, it can also lead to increased suicide risk. 

PTSD does not just heal over time, it is a serious and debilitating mental illness that needs professional support to help work through. The behaviour associated with PTSD is because of the illness, it is not a weakness

7 Tips to Cope with Trauma Exposure:

Establish a Regular Routine: After a traumatic event, it can turn your life upside down. By creating a regular routine, you can help settle yourself and feel stable again after the event. Try: getting up at the same time each day, or doing an exercise class at the same time each week. Routine will help.

#1. Focus on Self-care: Looking after yourself is crucial after a traumatic event. Remember to eat regularly, socialise, exercise, have a regular sleep routine, and have time to relax. 

#2. Limit further exposure: If you have been exposed to a traumatic event that is on the news, limit yourself to watching or reading any media coverage about the event. This can re-traumatise you.

#3. Try Grounding: After a traumatic event, your brain will often be triggered into thinking you are in danger again due to reminders of the traumatic event. Grounding is a fantastic technique that brings your attention back to the present moment through connecting to your physical senses, and reminds your brain that you are safe in the here and now. 

A simple grounding exercise is the 3 Things Exercise. Draw your attention to 3 things you can see, 3 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch. Try this exercise whenever you feel overwhelmed by a trauma symptom to help anchor you in the present moment.

#4. Connect to your Social Supports: After experiencing trauma, it is natural to want to withdraw from others. However, it is vital that you connect to your social supports in this time to help you manage these reactions. You don’t have to talk about the event, just make sure you have people you can talk to or simply be with. 

#5. Educate Yourself: Educate yourself about common trauma reactions and trauma progression. When experiencing trauma symptoms, it can feel that there is something really wrong with you. By learning about trauma, it can normalise your experience and help you get the right support. 

#6. Seek Help: If someone has developed PTSD, it does not naturally go away over time but they need the right professional support to help them return to their normal functioning. Additionally, if someone you know or love is experiencing trauma reactions, it can be really difficult to witness and it can be helpful to gain support. To access psychological or emotional support with our trained clinicians, contact your EAP – Acacia Connection on 1300 364 273. 

Trauma can be overwhelming and debilitating for those exposed to trauma, as well as the people close to them. However, with the right support you can help yourself or someone close to you get their life back. 

Watch this video on Understanding Trauma by Phoenix Australia to learn more. 


Mental Health for Leaders Workshop
According to an ABS study, 45% of Australians between the ages of 16-85 will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. It is estimated that untreated mental health conditions cost Australian workplaces approximately $10.9 billion per year.

Are your leaders equipped to manage these situations? We can help!

Our Mental Health for Leaders workshop provides managers with all of the information they need to be able to manage mental health concerns within the workplace with confidence.
Participants will learn a range of support options, conversation techniques and key strategies for managing situations involving mental health risk within the workplace.

What a few of our clients say…
“A really practical and highy informative session. Fantastic!”
“Thank you so much. This session has helped me so much”

Duration: 4 hours

Click Here to Contact Us for more information

If you or someone close to you needs support, contact Acacia Connection for an appointment.

P: 1300 364 273 | Text or Live Chat: 0401 337 711 | W: acaciaconnection.com

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