Sometimes, things can happen that we weren’t prepared for or couldn’t prevent from happening. These situations can include accidents, assaults, severe health conditions, abuse, disaster situations and tragedies. Such situations can be very traumatic, and the level of trauma depends on lots of things.
When terrible situations happen they can trigger feelings of fear, powerlessness and panic. Later on, other feelings can emerge such as shame, humiliation, guilt and sadness.
There are some useful things to know about what can happen to you after a terrible event. When we are in a difficult or dangerous situation, our bodies react in a way that is meant to protect us: we freeze, flee, faint or fight. The thinking part of our brain ‘shuts down’ so that our physical brain can take over to try and keep us safe. Because of this, we may behave in a way that we wouldn’t normally behave, but this is a very typical reaction to extreme stress and traumatic situations. It may be that the situation happened once, or keeps happening.
How can I get help?
If you have been through a terrible situation, you might notice a lot of changes in how you feel physically and emotionally.
Traumatic situations aren’t stored in our memory the same way as everyday situations, and it is very common to keep thinking about it even if you don’t want to. You also might have trouble sleeping, paying attention and concentrating, you might be more withdrawn, irritable or more tearful. You might keep seeing, feeling or hearing the situation as if it were happening all over again, or you might try to avoid anything that would remind you of it. These experiences are quite a normal reaction to going through something terrible, and will often get better with time, but it is helpful to know why you might be feeling different.
It is also important to know that it is really helpful to talk about what you’ve been through with people that you trust and who can help you. You might have a trusted teacher, or friend, or family member who can listen. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, and they are not going away or are getting worse, then it would be important to talk to a trained professional, because you may be experiencing an adjustment disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder – both of which are definitely treatable.
You can arrange to see your GP, or talk to a teacher who can make a referral to the right support service – find advice about who to talk to and how to go about it in our section on getting the support you need. You may feel very nervous about talking about the terrible situation and believe that talking about it will make it worse. In fact, the opposite is true: talking about it will really help because it helps your brain to process what you have been through. Bottling things up, or keeping things to yourself, is likely to lead to ongoing emotional distress.