Dealing with Trauma and Bereavement
Trauma refers to an experience which is deeply distressing, stressful, or frightening. Emotional or psychological trauma can relate to situations which we find traumatic and how those experiences affect us. Traumatic events or experiences can happen at any age and everyone’s reaction to these will be different. The effects of trauma may be apparent immediately or may not affect us until a long time afterwards.
Events which can be considered traumatic are wide-ranging, from what we may consider as common everyday life events such as divorce, bereavement and accidents to extreme experiences of war, natural disasters, a pandemic, rape and assault.
Effects of Trauma
Trauma can have both physical and mental health effects which can persist long after the traumatic experience.
Physical effects include our body’s typical response to threat or stress, including the release of cortisol and adrenaline to prepare us for danger. Studies have shown that stress signals can continue long after the trauma is over and may continue to affect how you think, feel, and behave.
The mental health effects of trauma commonly include flashbacks, panic attacks, sleep problems, dissociation, hyperarousal, grief, low self-esteem, self-harm, suicidal feelings, and alcohol or substance misuse.
Coping with Trauma
- Tell yourself that you are safe
- Acknowledge and accept the flashback; tell yourself that you are having a flashback
- Stay present; touch or hold an object that reminds you of the present
- Remind yourself that the worst is over
- Focus on controlling your breathing
- Recognise that you’re having a panic attack
- Focus on your senses: for example, taste mint-flavoured gum or touch or cuddle something soft
- Try visualisation; create internal scenes and environments that help you to feel safe
- Try grounding techniques: listen to the sounds around you, smell something with a strong scent, or walk barefoot
- Think about practical strategies such as wearing a watch with the date and time, keeping a journal or writing yourself notes, and connecting with others around you
- Practise focused, deep breathing
- Go for a walk and get some fresh air
- Take a warm bath or shower to help calm your mood and provide a distracting physical sensation
- Listen to a song or piece of music that you find uplifting
- Write down your negative feelings on a piece of paper and tear it up
- Engage in something physical such as going for a walk or jog
- Distract yourself from overthinking: try watching your favourite TV show, reading a book, completing a puzzle or spending time with others
- Delay self-harming for as long as possible
- Find distraction strategies which work for you, such as exercise, shouting or dancing, hitting something soft, tear something up into lots of pieces
- Try to be prepared by creating a list or a plan of what you will do if you feel like self-harming, such as having distractions close by
Try talking to someone you know and trust and tell them how you’re feeling
Bereavement is the experience of losing someone close to us, typically characterised by grief, which refers to the process and emotions that we experience as a way of dealing with and adjusting to this loss.
Losing someone important to us is emotionally distressing and bereavement, grief and loss can cause many different symptoms and affect people in different ways. There is no right or wrong way to feel. Although more commonly associated with the loss of someone close to us, grief can also be experienced as a result of other types of loss or changes, such as:
- The end of a marriage or relationship
- The mental or physical decline in health of someone close to us
- The loss of a job
- The loss of a home or moving away to a new location
There is no time limit on grief, and this varies hugely depending on the person and the circumstances. The time spent grieving is likely to be affected by factors such as the type and strength of relationship, the situation surrounding a loss, and the amount of time spent anticipating the death.
Some of the most common symptoms of bereavement, grief and loss are:
- Feeling numb or in a state of shock
- Overwhelming sadness, feeling very emotional and crying a lot
- Tiredness or exhaustion
These feelings may come and go and may appear unexpectedly, and it isn’t always easy to recognise the reasons that you’re acting or feeling this way.
Dealing with Bereavement, Grief and Loss
There are many ways to deal with bereavement, grief and loss and these are likely to be different for different people. Here are some things that might help:
- Try talking about how you feel with a friend, family member, counsellor, GP or support organisation
- Focus time and energy into helping yourself to feel better
- Remind yourself that you’re not alone and that what you are feeling is completely normal
- Try practising mindfulness, meditation or relaxation
- Try making simple healthy and positive lifestyle changes which help you feel more in control and able to cope
Page updated: 11/08/2021 10:12:18