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Coping with a Disaster, Hardship, or Traumatic Event: What You Should Know

Published February 9, 2022

This article has been reviewed by licensed insurance industry expert, Moshe Fishman.

Recent years have put the spotlight on our physical and mental health. And it’s not surprising. A traumatic event like a pandemic can put your mental health in a tailspin and affect your physical health. According to the American Psychological Association, trauma is “an emotional response to a terrible event” like an accident or natural disaster.

Because your mental and physical health is “closely connected,” experiencing a traumatic event can wreak havoc on your overall wellbeing. Not only can it create problems for your health, but it can also put strains on other areas of your life including relationships.

Understanding trauma and recognizing the effects of such an event on you is key to your recovery. Every situation is unique and yours is no exception. So, if you have encountered a traumatic event in your life, you should take steps to identify the harm it may be causing you and how to cope with it.

Examples of Traumatic Events

A traumatic event can take many forms and the impact of such events on individuals can vary from one person to the next. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says these events are the cause of immense stress and are “marked by a sense of horror, helplessness, serious injury, or the threat of serious injury or death.”

Yet, some of these events are considered common as many people experience them during their lifetime. Here is a short list of common traumatic events:

  • Natural disaster
  • Car accident with injury
  • Witness to a sudden death
  • Serious illness

There are, of course, many more forms of traumatic events. Others include incidents like rape, terrorism, war, mugging, physical assault, etc. Unfortunately, what these events have in common is the negative impact they cause on those who experience it such as “physical, emotional, spiritual, or psychological harm.” But the harm they cause may not always be obvious to the sufferer.

Signs and Symptoms to Look Out For

Not everyone will react to something traumatic the exact same way. Some of the initial reactions can include confusion, anxiety, agitation, sadness, and exhaustion. Some people might go into shock or denial. Most of these reactions may be expected or even normal.

The pain and suffering after a distressing experience may be noticeable to some people. But this is not true for everyone. For although some people may have serious emotional reactions, there may not be any visible signs they need help.

Fortunately, there are signs and various symptoms to watch for following the event. These will alert you that you or your loved one is struggling and should seek assistance to help you cope. Here are some of the signs and symptoms that indicate you or someone you know may be struggling due to a traumatic event.

Physical: The physical symptoms you might suffer following a traumatic event are a red flag. They can alert the victim just as any other illness or injury. Some of these can include:

  • Panic attacks
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches/backaches
  • Nausea
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Fatigue
  • Lethargic
  • Poor concentration

Emotional: Emotions can run high after experiencing trauma and affect loved ones with emotional outbursts and other post-traumatic signs including:

  • Fear
  • Anger
  • Denial
  • Guilt
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Sadness
  • Nervousness

Behavioral: Changing behaviors can be a detriment to your health and signal your struggle to deal with your emotions. These can include:

  • Social withdrawal
  • Consume more alcohol
  • Smoke
  • Take drugs
  • Refuse daily routine

Of course, how someone reacts to traumatic events can vary greatly. And it’s normal for people to respond with a variety of reactions following the event. According to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, “most will recover from their symptoms over time.”

In addition, some symptoms may be short-term while others may be longer-term. However, if your symptoms continue, you “may be diagnosed with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)” and should seek help to handle your stress levels.

How to Start Healing

Identifying that you have symptoms related to trauma is just the first step in the recovery process. But healing may require professional assistance, especially if the symptoms persist. If you are unable to function or find yourself having suicidal thoughts, it’s time to seek the help of a professional.

Here are some things you can do for yourself or someone you know who might be suffering from a traumatic event:

  • Get Help
    This bears repeating as trying to heal yourself may not be enough to get you back to normal. If you need help, don’t hesitate to reach out and get professional help.
  • Practice Self-Care
    According to the World Health Organization, self-care is a “broad concept” that includes hygiene, nutrition, lifestyle, environment like living conditions, socioeconomic (income, etc.), and self-medication. So, start by doing things that feel good. Take a nice bath, exercise, eat healthy meals, and spend time with friends and family. Doing so may not only help you to cope but can also be part of your long term healing process.
  • Re-Establish Your Routine
    Our daily routines play a key role in our lives by providing a sense of comfort and security. By reestablishing your routine (or sometimes creating a new one), you can help reduce anxiety and feelings of hopelessness.
  • Connect with Others  
    The importance of connecting with other people cannot be understated. If you can connect with those who are affected by the same traumatic event, it will be beneficial to healing. Remembering those who may have died, for example, can aid in feeling more hopeful about the future when shared with others.
  • Avoid Significant Decisions
    Try to delay deciding or making any significant life changes during this time. This includes taking on a new job, moving to a new town, etc. Instead, try to deal with any immediate concerns related to the trauma like figuring out your car insurance needs following an accident. Or getting you and your family to safety following a natural disaster.
  • Do Something Fun
    Depending on your trauma event, find a fun activity to reduce stress. Maybe consider a road trip (following a death in the family, for example) to help ease the pain. But remember, the idea of a fun activity can vary according to the individual. So do something that you truly find enjoyable and non-triggering.
  • Be Patient
    The road to recovery doesn’t happen overnight and is not always a straightforward path. Try to be patient and allow yourself ample time for healing.

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