Frequently asked questions
Q. What is a trauma?
A. A trauma is any experience where you feel under extreme threat and which is terrifying. When a trauma occurs you cannot rely on your usual ways of coping with fear. The world no longer feels a safe place. Your mind cannot take in what has happened and may keep you on 'red alert' for fear it will happen again.
Q. Am I going mad?
A. This is a question often asked of staff when first meeting new service users. Given the nature of symptoms experienced it is not hard to understand why this may be a concern. After traumatic incidents people can find daily life thrown into disarray; they find it difficult to have proper sleep at night due to nightmares, they wake tired to face the next day, which itself is often filled with intrusive images of the event. They find themselves more nervous, cautious, afraid of people and things they encounter. Their moods can vary greatly and relationships can become strained.
Far from being mad, these are some of the common symptoms in the aftermath of traumatic events. They represent the mind and body's attempts to protect the person from what has been an overwhelming experience. There are very specific physical and emotional reasons why these symptoms occur but with appropriate support individuals can be helped to overcome these and to begin to enjoy a quality of daily life as they had done prior to the traumatic event.
Q. What good will counselling do?
A. The words 'counselling' and 'therapy' can be both off-putting and confusing to many. At Barnardo's NOVA project we understand these terms as referring to any form of therapeutic support which an individual experiences as helpful. In our work with people affected by the 'Troubles', we employ a variety of specific types of help to alleviate the difficulties, such as those described above. These would include: techniques to relax mind and body, visualisation exercises, a safe place to reflect on the meaning of the event. In the comments made by those using our services, it is clear that this type of support has helped them overcome those overwhelming experiences.
Q. How can I help myself?
A. Everyone reacts differently after a trauma and different strategies work for different people. Here are some ideas about what you can do to help yourself:
- routine - in the confusion that often follows a trauma, establishing a routine is crucial. It is okay if this is different from your usual routine as life often takes on new priorities immediately after a trauma. A routine at night can help with sleep difficulties. Use essential oils, breathing exercises, yoga, reading or listening to relaxing music
- physical exercise - it is important to maintain regular exercise to reduce the impact of trauma on your body. Exercise in whatever way you usually do. Exercise that is relaxing as opposed to invigorating is particularly good, eg walking or swimming
- diet - try to eat regularly. After a trauma it can be tempting to eat sugary foods and caffeinated drinks. However, in the long run these will increase your stress level. Try to limit your intake of sugar and caffeine. Do try eating warm chicken and turkey, baked potatoes, cream-based soups - these foods help you feel tired but good
- family and friends - enjoying your family and friends can enhance a sense of balance in life. You may sometimes want to be by yourself, and that is okay. However, do not isolate yourself from those you care for and who care for you.
Q. How are children affected after a trauma?
A. Children react to trauma in many different ways. There is no typical or 'normal' reaction. Younger children in particular may find it hard to comprehend what has happened and will require the support of adults to help them understand. Like adults, children will have strong feelings after a trauma. Unlike adults, children may not be able to tell you how they are feeling. Instead they will express their feelings through mood, behaviour and play.
Some common responses are: fearfulness, clingyness, mood swings, sleep difficulties, nightmares, bed-wetting, physical aches and pains, poor concentration, withdrawal, and asking lots of questions. A child is never too young to be affected by a trauma. Even if they do not speak about it they will have a memory of the experience and reactions to it. We now know that children over two years of age often maintain an indelible memory image of a traumatic event.
Q. How can I help my child after a trauma?
A. Most children's reactions lessen over time. Parents, family and friends can play a vital role in a child's recovery. The best cure for a child's fear is the soothing response of a caring adult. Reassure your child and encourage them with extra hugs and attention, especially at bedtime. As far as possible protect your child from frightening situations or reminders of the trauma (eg, TV news or scary programmes). Keeping to routines is important after the shock of trauma, especially at mealtimes and bedtime. Communicate with your child and respect their feelings. Encourage your child to draw how they feel or to play about it. Finally, don’t stay isolated. Speak to your friends, school, GP, community worker, minister or priest. If you feel more supported you will be able to support your child more.
If you feel you would benefit from outside specialist support, ask your GP about a referral to a trauma counsellor. If you live within the Southern Health and Social Services Board area you can contact Barnardo's NOVA project directly and discuss your concerns with a member of the team.