By Emma Johnston

3 min readPublished On: March 21, 2024Categories: Well-being
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When we have had the misfortune of going through a traumatic event, it is important to understand what happens to us physically and psychologically, and what can be done to help.
Types of Single Incident Trauma:

When psychologists and other medical professionals talk about single incident trauma, they are referring to the experience of a situation where something significant and traumatic happens in our lives – think accidents, assaults, or even witnessing something really scary. It’s like a lightning bolt that hits us out of nowhere.

When the trauma occurs:

You can well imagine how our brains end up being affected by a single incident trauma. Picture this: you’re going about your day when BAM! Something shocking happens. Your heart races, you feel shaky, and your mind is swirling with confusion and fear. That’s the immediate aftermath of trauma – it’s like being caught in a whirlwind of emotions.

Possible longer term impact:

While the initial shock of the situation might wear off, the effects of single incident trauma can linger for a long time. It’s like a shadow that follows us around, sometimes turning into nightmares, anxiety, or even depression. It’s tough, but you’re not alone in this.

Psychological symptoms following a single incident trauma can vary widely depending on the individual and the nature of the traumatic event.

Here are some specific psychological symptoms that we may experience after a traumatic event:

    Intrusive Thoughts: Recurrent, distressing thoughts or memories of the traumatic event may intrude into consciousness involuntarily, causing significant distress.
    Flashbacks: Vivid and intense sensory experiences of the traumatic event may occur, which feels as though you are reliving the trauma.
    Avoidance Behaviors: Individuals may actively avoid reminders of the traumatic event, including places, people, or activities that evoke distressing memories.
    Emotional Numbing: Some individuals may experience a sense of emotional numbness, detachment, or a reduced ability to experience positive emotions.
    Hyperarousal: Heightened physiological arousal, including increased heart rate, hypervigilance, and exaggerated startle response, may persist, making it difficult to relax or feel safe.
    Negative Mood: Persistent feelings of sadness, guilt, shame, or anger may linger, impacting overall mood and well-being.
    Difficulty Concentrating: Cognitive difficulties, including trouble concentrating, memory problems, and decreased attention span, may interfere with daily functioning.
    Sleep Disturbances: Insomnia, nightmares, or disrupted sleep patterns are common following trauma, leading to fatigue and daytime impairment.
    Social Withdrawal: Some individuals may withdraw from social interactions or experience difficulties in relationships, leading to feelings of isolation or alienation.
    Physical Symptoms: Physical manifestations of distress, such as headaches, gastrointestinal problems, or muscle tension, may persist even after the traumatic event has ended.

It’s important to note that not everyone who experiences a single incident trauma will develop these symptoms, and individuals may vary in the severity and duration of their responses.

Coping Strategies for Single Incident Trauma:

Here’s the good news: there are ways to cope with single incident trauma. Reach out to friends or family for support, practice self-care like your life depends on it (because in many ways it does!), and try relaxation techniques like deep breathing or meditation.

If your symptoms are continuing to cause you distress, you can reach out for professional help. Please read our blog on EMDR for more information. You can find ways to build the resilience required for recovery from single incident trauma. Reach out for help, especially if you are feeling stuck.

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