Bill stopped for coffee on his way home from work. At the last minute he ordered tea instead of coffee, which he normally drank. His first sip of tea was accompanied by the early stages of a panic attack.
After a boating accident when he nearly drowned, Bill was rescued from the sea, wrapped in blankets and given hot sweet tea to drink. He suffered trauma from a combination of the accident, struggling to survive in frigid choppy seas and the shock of his friend drowning.
Many months later, Bill thought he had recovered, but the panic attack indicated that there was still some healing to be done.
This often happens with trauma. Simple things can trigger trauma’s delayed, strange and unexpected reactions. For Bill it was a sip of tea that led to a panic attack. Other people can be triggered into rage by a slight gesture, a facial expression or a tone of voice. Others may be terrified by the sound of a slammed door or a car backfiring. Or a heart rate can rise with a sudden feeling of dread that comes with a smell of smoke.
Such varied reactions often make victims of trauma feel afraid that there is something seriously wrong with them, and they become frightened of their own feelings and reactions, so increasing their levels of stress.
Family, friends and coworkers may feel helpless as they witness unusually emotional behavior, displays of fear or panic attacks.
If you want to help someone who is experiencing the effects of trauma, here are a few things to consider:
- Help them to feel safe.
- Be there for them.
- Listen without judgement.
- Accept that they feel whatever they say they feel. It may seem illogical to you, but understand that their brain has received a severe shock and is out of balance for a while.
- Reassure them that they will get better.
- Hold their hand.
- Be a comforting presence.
- Give practical help if necessary (shopping, cooking, walking the dog).
Whether you have been traumatized, or you know someone who is experiencing the effects of trauma, know that trauma need not be a life sentence. Trauma can be an experience leading to recovery, understanding and growth.