In these materials, you will find information about normal human reactions to traumatic stress (such as that caused by an earthquake), information about the healing process, some suggestions for survivors and their loved ones on how to cope with the emotional aftershocks of this tragedy. The range of possible reactions is very broad and some can be quite uncomfortable, but humans are amazingly resilient and strong, and you are no exception.
Have you experienced any of the following reactions since the trauma?
Read below for some helpful information, even if you answered “no”.
Trauma and Stress Information You have experienced a highly traumatic event. Even though the trauma may be over, you may now be experiencing, or may experience later, some strong emotional or physical reactions. It is very common, in fact quite normal, for people to experience emotional aftershocks when they have passed through a horrible event.
Sometimes the emotional aftershocks (or stress reactions) appear immediately after the traumatic event. Sometimes they may appear a few hours or a few days later, and in some cases, weeks or months may pass before the stress reactions appear. These reactions are normal, even if some of them are a bit upsetting.
The signs and symptoms of a stress reaction may last a few days, a few weeks, or a few months, and occasionally longer depending on the severity of your traumatic experience. With understanding and the support of loved ones, the stress reactions usually pass more quickly. Occasionally, the experience is so traumatic and painful that professional assistance from a counsellor may be necessary. This does not imply craziness or weakness. It is simply that the person’s traumatic stress is too powerful for them to manage by themselves. Everyone has different reactions at different times – they may fluctuate wildly, too. Here are some very common signs and signals of a stress reaction:
Physical* Get a medical evaluation immediately
Muscle tremors & twitches
Rapid heart rate
Elevated blood pressure
Painful body tension
Grinding of teeth
Sleeplessness or sleepiness
Increased vulnerability to injury & disease
Heightened or lowered alertness
Short attention span
Poor decision making
Poor abstract thinking
Increased/decreased awareness of surroundings
Excessive preoccupation with possible future traumas
Intrusive mental images
Flashbacks (Involuntary, intrusive, and very vivid “reliving” of the trauma)
Guilt over surviving or being lucky
Loss of emotional control
Suspicion & paranoia
Inappropriate emotional responses
Emotional shock / numbness
Elation for having survived
Changes in activity, speech patterns, usual communications or sexual functioning
Withdrawal from friends, family and previous hobbies
Increased alcohol, tobacco and other drug consumption
Startle reflex intensified
Obsessive preoccupation with media coverage of the trauma
Eating more or less than before
Nonspecific bodily complaints
Hyperalertness to environment
Fighting with family & friends
Inability to rest, relax or sit still
Remember: Some of these symptoms can be very frightening, especially nightmares and flashbacks. Remind yourself and people around you that these are normal reactions to a traumatic event and that they will likely get better.
If You Think You May Need Help If you know someone whose reaction to a trauma is so strong or constant that they cannot go about their daily routine, or go on with rebuilding their lives adequately, or someone who is feeling suicidal, talking with a counsellor may help. In addition, if someone you know is still not eating or sleeping, you should consult a professional counselor or therapist.