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How to deal with shock and trauma

Right now the world is in chaos. People are being laid off, others are dying and it feels a bit like we’re constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop.

How do you deal with shock and trauma when you’ve had a traumatic or scary event take place in your life?

The thing about shock and trauma is that it’s, well, shocking really.

As the news of a shocking event hits you, a number of symptoms may become apparent:

  • You feel like you can’t breathe
  • You go weak in the legs and knees and can’t stand on your own anymore
  • Your vision becomes blurry
  • Sound becomes too loud or too soft
  • You may feel unnaturally hot or cold all of a sudden
  • You feel like you want to faint
  • You feel tired and like you need to go to sleep
  • Your heart starts pounding really fast – you may even think you’re going to have a heart attack
  • The whole world feels surreal – time slows down and you feel like you’re moving through water or mud

The important thing in this moment is to realise that anything that is happening in your system right now is completely natural – don’t worry about or judge it, just deal with the symptoms that are in front you.

If you’re alone in the moment, the single most important thing to do is get to sugar. Your blood sugar can and does plummet in stressful situations so replacing that sugar is crucial. Grab a coke if there’s one around or just pour a whole bunch of sugar into a glass of water, mix it and drink it.

Even though a cup of tea could likely help in this situation, it’s going to take too long to make and too long to get into your system. The point of a cool drink in this case is that it’s easy to get it all down your gullet - and what your body needs to survive the next couple of hours is sugar.

If you’re a smoker, now would also be a good time to get to a cigarette… chain smoke three if you need to in fact. Because of the way it works on the neurochemistry of your brain having a smoke will calm you down – even if you haven’t smoked for years.

Things to avoid include food, which with all the hormones and chemicals coursing through your system right now could sit heavily in your stomach and make you feel like throwing up. Please also avoid alcohol and drugs.

Even if you carry prescription drugs such as sedatives with you be careful of giving them to someone else in this state as you don’t know how their bodies will react.

Medically speaking

If the person going through the shock or trauma looks like they will need medical assistance, whether with a sedative or more advanced help then your first priority is to get them to a doctor, quickly!

Don’t let the receptionist mess you around either – in cases of anxiety or shortness of breath, you are expected to inform the receptionist so that she can treat the case with the urgency and priority it deserves.

Kick up a fuss if you have to, if it looks like they aren’t doing anything to attend to you – rather look an idiot for nothing than have the person in your care have heart attack because they were left untreated by an overworked and harried receptionist.

If it happens to be your doctor’s rooms where you kicked up a fuss, I recommend bursting into tears afterwards when you apologise so that the memory of you ends with empathy and compassion instead of irritation and anger.

Remember it’s always easier to ask for forgiveness than permission ☺

Simple and easy

Regardless of the severity of a shock or trauma, or even a stressful situation or period in your life, there are 2 small tricks you can employ anywhere, at any time, in any situation, without anyone knowing what you’re doing.

Both of these are also easy to remember and to explain to someone who is battling and can’t focus on anything complicated.

Shoot your eyes up

People process information in different ways and on different levels – some are visual, some auditory, some feelings-based and others are committed to process and order.

So for example, if I ask you what the word love brings up inside you, does it bring a picture, feeling, sound or colour – or even something else? If it’s a picture, is that picture black and white or panoramic, moving or still, fuzzy or clear?

Now ask the person next to you the same set of questions.

We all have our own unique interpretations of the world and the language we use and this makes us see and experience things differently from the person next to us. There are however standards that apply to all of us, such as where on our bodies each of the representational systems (Visual, Auditory, Kinaesthetic or Analogue Digital) live.

When we’re flat or low or have had the wind knocked out of us by something, it’s completely natural to sit with our eyes downcast – this however is the worst thing you can do because it keeps you mired in the negative and overwhelming feelings.

By remembering to shoot your eyes up and look up you will move into the visual part of your brain and out of the overwhelming feelings.

If the person is battling to remember to keep their eyes facing up, then lean them back on a chair or lie them down and have them focus on a point on the ceiling.

Remember to make them keep their eyes open too – closing their eyes will mire them in the intense emotion all over again.

Breathe through your nose

Your brain, for the purposes of this explanation, is divided into two distinct areas:

  1. Your reptilian brain is responsible for your instinctive reactions, everything from suckling when you’re a baby to the shock and trauma you’re feeling now. This is the part of your brain responsible for autopilot and instinct.
  2. Your forebrain is what we really think of as the brain. This is the part of you responsible for higher learning and thinking and the part that helps you see logic, calm down, focus and think.

When you breather through your mouth, as many of us are wont to do, especially in stressful and tense situations, you activate your reptilian brain.

Your fastest way out of this quagmire of emotional overwhelm is simply to keep breathing through your nose.

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