Coping with traumatic experiences

Mobilise a support system – reach out and connect with others, especially those who may have shared the stressful event.

Talk about the traumatic experience with empathic listeners.

Express your feelings, especially to a trained mental health professional, and work through these.

Do some exercise like jogging, aerobics, cycling or walking.

Relaxation exercises include yoga, stretching, massage and listening to guided imagery.

Try progressive deep muscle relaxation; humour and pleasurable experiences; prayer and meditation; hot baths; music and creative arts.

Maintain a balanced diet and sleep cycle as much as possible.

Avoid over-using stimulants like caffeine, sugar or nicotine.

Commit to something personally meaningful and important every day.

Enjoy physical affection with those you love, including pets.

Eating poultry, boiled onions, baked potatoes, cream-based soups – these are tryptophane activators, which help you feel tired but good.

Be proactive towards personal and community safety by organising or doing something socially active.

Journal about your experience – in detail, just for yourself or to share with trusted others.

Take a self-defence classes.

Medication, such as anti-depressants, which also helps with anxiety, may be required when the symptoms are severe and debilitating.

However, most antidepressants take approximately two weeks to take full effect. So it would be important to discuss with your doctor whether you will specifically need medication to alleviate symptoms of anxiety, which are called anxiolytics.

Although these strategies are meant to assist individuals dealing with trauma, they are not meant to replace consultation with your GP and a qualified mental health professional.

People are usually surprised that reactions to trauma can last longer than they expected.

It may take weeks, months, and in some cases, many years to fully regain equilibrium. Many people will get through this period with the help and support of family and friends. But sometimes friends and family may push people to “get over it” before they are ready. Let them know that such responses are not helpful for you right now, although you appreciate that they are trying to help.

Many people find that individual, group or family counselling are helpful.

Either way, the key word is connection – ask for help, support, understanding, and opportunities to talk about how you feel but also about other things that you would like to share or just chat about. This connecting and sharing allows a sense of feeling relieved and supported.

Carin-Lee Masters is a clinical psychologist. Write to her at helpmecarin@inl.co.za or send a WhatsApp message or SMS to 082 264 7774.