Trauma: Understanding the Signs and Learning How to Cope

The Kincade fire has been an unsettling reminder of how important it is to understand and talk about trauma. Trauma is when a life experience results in an overwhelming amount of stress that can then impair a person’s ability to cope emotionally with the experience and can even have long-lasting effects. With all of the displacement and fear during the evacuations due to the Kincade fire, the evacuations would certainly qualify as a traumatic life event. And of course for those who lost their homes or experienced damage to their homes, the trauma will continue after the re-population. The impact of the trauma may be more intense for Sonoma County residents given the fires of 2017.

So how do you recognize and deal with trauma?

Signs of trauma

One sign of trauma I think goes unrecognized is irritability. It is so important for people to keep in mind having a short fuse during this level of stress is extremely common. Some other factors are racing heart beat, heightened anxiety, restlessness, inability to sleep, exhaustion, clumsiness, brain fog, lack of motivation, and feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Coping tools

Stay in the present moment  – After a traumatic event, part of the overwhelm is a lack of control. Especially when we are talking about displacement and fire. It is important to stay in the current moment. Perhaps ask yourself, “What can I do in this moment?” Take one baby step at a time. If we allow our mind to go to all the things that need to happen or all the things that could happen, we can get paralyzed in anxiety. Come back to the present moment and do one thing.  

Talk to someone – People who have experienced a trauma need to be heard. They need someone to listen to their story. Turning toward our community members, friends, and family is critical in order to avoid isolation and share our experiences. If you find yourself alone or don’t have a community of support, seeking therapy is a great idea. Many also turn toward their church communities in times of need. 

Exercise – During a traumatic event we often experience a lot of pent up energy that needs a physical release. Taking a walk or run, perhaps hitting the gym, doing some yoga, and even stretching can all be really helpful. 

Pay attention to your nervous system – During trauma our bodies usually flip into a fight or flight mode which means there is a build up of cortisol, a stress hormone. With too much cortisol in the body, the immune system can be at risk, so it is vital to build up your immune system after a traumatic event. Make sure to eat well, drink lots of fluids, increase your vitamin C intake, and try to get quality sleep. The nervous system can also be overly inundated and vigilant after a trauma so be aware of your reaction to overstimulating situations. Avoiding loud and crowded places may be a good idea. Listening to calming or joyful music can be helpful. Watching television shows or movies that are humorous or light rather than violent or action themed is also advised. 

The process of healing from a trauma takes time. Recognize the signs. Be kind to yourself and others.