What is typical distress after traumatic events?
It is expected that we struggle and feel scared or upset after one, or multiple seriously frightening or upsetting events. It usually takes us a little while to recover and readjust after traumatic experiences.
It is fairly common to experience moodiness or mood swings, trouble being alone or away from people we trust, disturbed sleep, and difficulty concentrating after living through a trauma. We also tend to avoid situations or places that are associated with what has happened to us, have flashbacks or nightmares of the event, as well as feel anxious, easily annoyed, guilty, sad, angry or ashamed.
Most of us tend to naturally recover from a traumatic experience as time goes by, but some of us continue to struggle one month or more after experiencing a traumatic event. Even though long-term pain may be a cause of concern, attention and support is always necessary to deal with the aftermath of trauma.
When should I pay special attention to persistent distress after traumatic experiences?
Signs that we experiencing persistent distress after a traumatic experience, like being "haunted" by what happened, can include:
Frequently remembering and feeling as if the experience is happening again
Images, sounds or unwanted thoughts about the experience popping into their minds
Nightmares or dreams related to what happened
Feelings of distress when remembering what happened
Avoidance of places, people, or activities that can be reminders of the traumatic experience
Not wanting to or being strongly reluctant to do anything that could be related to the trauma (e.g., riding a car if the trauma is an accident, or wearing the same clothes as the ones worn on the day a bad experience happened)
Negative changes in mood or the way the child perceives the world
Moodiness and mood swings
Being easily annoyed or restless
Having trouble being alone or away from trusted people
Feelings of guilt, like what happened was our fault, shame, anger, or sadness
Seeing the world as a dangerous or bad place
Losing interest in school or activities that we previously enjoyed
Anxiety symptoms because of being always on alert internally
Expressing fear more often
Difficulty concentrating on several tasks
Getting more easily and more frequently frightened with sudden sounds or unexpected movements
Headaches, stomachaches, or other physical complaints
What can I do if I struggle with persistent distress after traumatic experiences?
It can be hard and frustrating to deal with the aftermath of a traumatic event. If you understand that you struggle with it, there are a few things you may try:
- Ask a trusted adult for help. Trusted adults are usually our caregivers, other family members, or someone else who is responsible for taking care of us. Let your trusted adults know about your difficulties. They can be helpful for assisting you and helping you get any additional help you may need.
- Understand that you are never to blame for bad things that happen to you. It is very common for us to feel guilty or ashamed when something bad happens to us. However, most of the time what happened is not our fault or our responsibility.
- Reach out to your support system. Counting on friends and family is really important in dealing with the aftermath of a traumatic experience. Talking about it with people we trust can lighten the burden.
- Maintain routines as much as possible. Amidst chaos and change, routines reassure us that life will be okay again. If you are unable to keep the same routines, try to include some familiar rituals in it.
- Exercise, eat well and do things you enjoy. Maintaining physical wellness and practicing pleasant activities may improve your mood and be useful distractions at times.
- Remember the good things about you. When we go through traumatic experiences, it is common to also feel down and not so great about ourselves. Try to remember the nice things about you, your strengths and also what makes you interesting. Everyone is unique in some sort of way.
- Try new experiences. Try new social activities or school clubs, for example. Because we tend to withdraw when we are feeling sad, it is important to be around others while participating in enjoyable activities.
- Practice breathing exercises. Breathing becomes shallow and fast when anxiety sets in. Deep breaths can help us calm down. Breathe in slowly counting to three, and then breathe out slowly also counting to three.
- Prevent or limit exposure to upsetting news (especially when related to the trauma). Consuming information about a traumatic event can only increase distress, discomfort and negative feelings about the experience.
If you have already tried some or most of these suggestions and the problems you are facing persist, it may be time to ask a trusted adult to seek out professional support.
Distress after traumatic events that are present after more than a month of the occurrence of the event, that is too intense and that negatively interfere with our daily lives may indicate the possibility of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
What kind of professional support can be sought out?
It is not unusual for us to feel embarrassed, inadequate, or guilty if we are struggling after a traumatic event. But, if you think you are facing this difficulty, support and guidance are available now.
Pediatricians or family physicians can help to address initial concerns and refer to specialized professionals. Also, whenever possible, a consultation with a mental health professional may be helpful.
The public system provides services through the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and Centers of Multidisciplinary Assessment, Counseling, and Support (KEDASY).
Where to find more information
Specific, detailed, and clinical information on Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can be found at [clinical short guide at the program website].
If you want to know more about the closest available services for educational and public health systems for children and adolescent assistance across the country, go to our Services Mapping webpage here.
You can also find more information by pointing your phone camera at the QR code below or by clicking here.