It was about 1:45 am on a Thursday morning in June. I can vividly remember waking up and frantically clenching my sheets. Everything was shaking all around me. I felt disoriented. I had no idea what was going on. At first, I thought that perhaps I was waking up from some kind of intense earthquake-themed nightmare.
All I really knew was that I woke up feeling scared, very scared. And then all of a sudden, I started hearing the screams, and then in the distance, the sirens, lots of sirens. By that point, it was clear that something very bad had happened.
I looked outside of my bedroom window to see what was going on, but everything was unusually dark with just a handful of lights flickering like stars through what appeared to be early morning fog. Once I got my bearings and made sure that the rest of my family was safe, I got dressed and went outside to investigate what had actually happened.
I remember that the air was still full of tiny bits and pieces of debris floating around and everything was covered with a fine layer of gray dust. As soon as I stepped outside, I saw my neighbor standing on the corner in his bathrobe. He was pale and motionless, with both his mouth and his eyes wide open, as if he had just seen a ghost. I asked him what was going on, and without saying a word, he just pointed over to the building across the street. It was the Champlain Towers in Surfside, Florida, and at least half of the condominium appeared to have collapsed on top of itself, all twelve floors, obviously still full of people at that time of day. I soon found myself standing there next to him in shock and with my mouth wide open, while my heart sank deep within my soul.
I knew a lot of lives would be lost. I knew this was going to be bad, very bad.
Although I did not know any of the victims personally, I will never forget seeing so many of them spending time out on their balconies. The ocean view must have been spectacular, especially at night, in the moonlight. Tragically, the only view that was left early that fateful morning was that of a massive pile of rubble by the sea.
In the days that followed, search and rescue teams from all over the world swarmed the site of the tragedy with cranes, probes, drones, and dogs looking for any signs of life. Even the President of the United States came by to offer his support to both the families of the victims, as well as to the first responders who were tirelessly working hard to save lives.
But in the end, even after an exhaustive and valiant effort, no additional survivors were to be found. Although my pain cannot match that of the families of the victims, it remains embedded deep within my conscience, as I continue to feel anxiety and profound sadness associated with the tragedy.
Through my own personal experience, I have now learned that you do not necessarily have to be the victim of a tragedy to be traumatized by a traumatic event. Sometimes, all you have to do is bear witness to it.
WHAT IS TRAUMA?
So exactly what is trauma? How does it affect you? And how can you deal with it effectively?
Trauma is broadly recognized as a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. Just like death and taxes, at one point or another, you will almost certainly experience a traumatic event in your lifetime.
Along with all of the amazing things that life has to offer, you could say that trauma is just another part of the human experience. As a matter of fact, it is estimated that 70 percent of all adults have experienced at least one traumatic event in their lifetimes.
Trauma itself can be triggered by any variety of traumatic events, including emotional abuse, acts of violence, natural disasters, and tragic accidents. With that being said, there are essentially two types of trauma:
- Type 1 trauma refers to a single incident or event, for example, trauma associated with a car accident or a natural disaster like an earthquake.
- Type 2 trauma refers to a traumatic event that is prolonged and repeated, for example, continued emotional abuse by a bully in school.
Similar to many physical injuries, emotional trauma does leave scars, however, they may not necessarily be visible at the surface. As a matter of fact, symptoms of trauma can actually be both emotional and physical in nature.
The most common emotional symptoms of trauma include feeling numb, angry, anxious, guilty, sad, confused, hopeless, and shameful. While the most common physical symptoms of trauma include fatigue, poor concentration, poor appetite, overeating, insomnia, hypersomnia, and high blood pressure.
Although most people will experience a traumatic event in their lifetimes, not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will necessarily be traumatized by it. Nevertheless, perhaps the most commonly recognized traumatic disorder is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. It involves being exposed to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence that can either be experienced directly or witnessed in person. Then, as a result of the traumatic event, recurrent, involuntary, and intrusive distressing memories and flashbacks of the event are experienced.
Many people suffering from PTSD experience difficulty forming close relationships and often avoid situations that remind them of the traumatic event. Some of the most common symptoms of PTSD are irritability, hypervigilance, exaggerated response, sleep disturbances, and self-destructive behaviors including acts of violence, suicide, and drug abuse.
I am not necessarily suggesting that you should somehow try to prepare yourself in advance for impending doom, but rather in case you experience a traumatic event, that you are in possession of the tools to deal with it effectively. So here are 5 ways to deal effectively with the stress from traumatic events.
For me personally, I am finding solace in opening up, and sharing my experience about the tragedy that sadly unfolded right in front of me. As a matter of fact, at least in my opinion, just writing this article is a healthy way for me to express my feelings constructively.
Interestingly enough, I am still having a hard time talking about the tragedy without reliving some part of it in my mind. However, I am able to write about it with relatively minimal emotional discomfort.
I firmly believe that writing has actually helped me see my world from a more objective and self-nurturing perspective. And I am confident that journaling your feelings could work for you or anyone else who may have gone through a traumatic event as well.
Nevertheless, if you do not have the time or the patience to write about a traumatic event that you may have experienced, you could always try your hand at illustrating your feelings through some form of artwork, after all, sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.
Although the emotional pain of a traumatic event may never fully go away, besides self-expression, I strongly recommend counseling. A well-trained and compassionately intuitive trauma therapist should be able to help you process your feelings constructively at an emotionally manageable pace.
Counseling has the potential to help you find your way safely out of the proverbial forest in your mind by having a professional guide to help keep you on the right path. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy or EMDR is recognized as perhaps the most widely accepted clinical orientation when it comes to treating trauma patients. It asserts that after a person experiences a traumatic event, disturbing thoughts, feelings, and images get stuck in the brain, whereby EMDR essentially creates mental pathways to effectively release those disturbances with minimal emotional disruption.
You may have been robbed of your innocence. Your serenity may have been shattered. However, no matter the circumstance, you are still in possession of your soul, which in my humble opinion is the gatekeeper of your emotions.
Meditation can help you reach deep within yourself to establish a greater sense of inner peace, thereby providing your soul with the emotional nutrients necessary to protect itself from negative energy. As a matter of fact, meditation, along with other non-medicinal complementary interventions, has been shown to significantly reduce severe symptoms of PTSD experienced by soldiers following combat.
So go ahead and put away all of the electronics (yes, you can do it), as well as all of the things that you need to take care of for all of the other people in your life, and get ready to take a much-needed mental health moment all for you, at no additional cost, other than a few minutes of your time.
Start off by finding a safe quiet spot in your home, maybe somewhere on the floor of your bedroom, perhaps near a window. Take off your shoes, sit down slowly, cross your legs, and then gently rest your arms on top of your thighs with your palms up to the sky. Keep your back straight and close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths and begin to shut down your conscious mind, while gently embracing the healing power of the serenity that now surrounds you. You are welcome to stay there as long as you like. Just make sure that you’re not late to work.
Regular exercise can help reduce the stress associated with trauma by pumping up the production of endorphins, neurotransmitters in your brain that help regulate your mood. Additionally, cardiovascular exercise improves circulation which is essential for optimal health by providing adequate blood flow and oxygen to all of the organs in the body, thereby keeping your heart healthy, and your mind sharp so that you process your feeling with greater clarity.
Lastly, as you tone your body and shed unwanted pounds, exercise ultimately helps build self-esteem, one of the most potent antidotes against symptoms of trauma.
Avoidance is one of the most common symptoms associated with trauma. In many cases, people who have experienced traumatic events find themselves frequently avoiding interaction with others as a means by which to prevent additional trauma.
Unfortunately, however, humans are fundamentally social creatures, by avoiding one another, we may be inadvertently depriving ourselves of the opportunity to live a full and productive life.
People who may have experienced emotional, physical, or sexual abuse in their childhood, often have a very difficult time trusting others and thereby forming strong interpersonal relationships as adults. For that reason, I strongly encourage anyone who may have experienced any form of trauma, at any point in their lives, to join a support group with others who may have experienced a similar traumatic experience. When it comes to effectively dealing with trauma, there is strength in numbers.
In conclusion, trauma is an inevitable part of the human experience. At one point or another in your life, you will probably experience at least one traumatic event. In other words, it is bound to happen.
If you spend the rest of your life trying to avoid traumatic events, you may end up missing out on a whole bunch of the amazing experiences that life has to offer.
The good news is that you can recover from both the emotional and physical damage caused by trauma, albeit over time, and in many cases, with a lot of hard work.