How to cope with trauma

We are living through extraordinary times, the like of which we have never before experienced in the UK.  Our emergency services and hospital teams sweep into action after each atrocity to offer assistance to the injured and comfort those who suffered the ultimate loss.  For those who lost family members or sustained life-changing injuries, the road ahead is long and painful.  At first, people will remember the victims but, as time goes by and terror campaigns targeting innocent victims continue, names will sadly turn into statistics.

Traumatic events in the workplace

However, you don’t have to be caught up in terrorist attacks to feel the effects of trauma. It could be that simply watching the news brings reminders of a time when you experienced trauma yourself. Trauma may be brought on by events such as an accident at home or at work, a robbery, a fire, lay-offs, death in service, threats, violence, or natural disasters such as floods.

What can an organisation do?

Nothing can adequately prepare organisations or individuals for the occurrence of a traumatic incident because, by definition, such incidents are outside ‘normal’ experience. However, research shows that the way an organisation treats its staff in the aftermath of a traumatic incident can have a profound effect, not only on the recovery of individuals directly involved, but also on their colleagues and families. Individuals may be traumatised by a disaster for some time afterwards and during this period their productivity and commitment to the organisation can be drastically reduced. Managers may find themselves having to play a key role in managing a situation which might ultimately be more damaging to the organisation than the original event.

The nature of trauma

Anyone who has been involved in a traumatic incident is likely to experience some form of reaction to it. Such reactions may happen immediately or they may not occur until weeks, months, or sometimes years afterwards.

Staff are more likely to be badly affected if:

  • There were fatalities and/ or injuries during the traumatic incident, and these were sudden or violent
  • Individuals experience feelings of guilt, wondering whether they could have done more to help the injured or could have prevented the incident from happening
  • They lack adequate support from family, friends or colleagues
  • Stress arising from the incident comes on top of existing problems that are unrelated

Emotional reactions

An individual’s emotions are likely to be in turmoil after an incident, although some people may not feel anything. Amongst the more common reactions are:

Irrational guilt for having survived when others did not

Anger at what has happened, or at the injustice or senselessness of it

Fear of breaking down or losing control and being unable to cope

Shame for not having reacted as they might have been expected to

Sadness at the deaths and injuries of colleagues

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

People are very likely to find that they are unable to stop thinking about the incident. They may experience disturbed sleep, suffer loss of memory, concentration or motivation. They may experience flashbacks and hate to be reminded of what happened, or may always have to be on their guard against a repetition of the incident.

Physiological reactions

Individuals often experience reactions such as tiredness, sleeplessness, having nightmares, dizziness, palpitations, shaking, difficulty in breathing, tightness in the throat and chest, sickness, diarrhoea, menstrual problems, changes in sexual interest, changes in eating habits, and many other symptoms. Frequently these may occur without any conscious connection being made with the incident.

Resultant behavioural problems

Individuals may be hurt following the incident and their personal relationships, particularly with their partner, may be placed under additional strain. They could find themselves taking their anger out on family, or emotionally withdrawing from close contacts, just when they need them most.

What can be done to help?

Nature often heals by allowing feelings to emerge naturally, enabling people to want to talk about them. This should be encouraged if the opportunity arises.

Talking to a trained counsellor is often beneficial and can reduce much of the tension and anxiety. Trying to ignore personal feelings or avoiding having to think or talk about the incident, in the belief that the individual can cope, is usually counter-productive in the long run. Suppressing feelings can lead to problems being stored up which can create even greater difficulties.

When to ask for professional support

People who have experienced a traumatic incident should be encouraged to seek professional help if they:

  • Experience chronic tension, are exhausted or depressed
  • Continue to have nightmares, are sleeping badly, or have flashbacks
  • Have no-one to share their emotions with
  • Think their relationships seem to be suffering or sexual problems develop
  • Start to be accident-prone, or their work performance suffers

It is important to encourage individuals to remember that talking about their experience can help. Suppressing their feelings, on the other hand, can lead to further problems in the future.

With over 25 years of providing support in the field of trauma and post traumatic stress, contact the Carole Spiers Group if we can help in any way:


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I am a firm believer in the value of face-to-face communication. However, over the past few weeks, I have been impressed by a story of hope and support – that has resulted from an on-line relationship.

A tragic life change

Johan is a handsome, 24 year-old male client of mine who was a landscape gardener.  He was referred to me by his doctor after a serious car accident that has left him unable to walk and only able to move about in a wheelchair.  The challenges ahead of him are great.  He has had to give up his work, which has always been the love of his life.

For some years, Johan has been an avid blogger on social media and now has thousands of followers.  His blog has always provided a creative outlet for him after a day of being out in the open.  He has also written about his accident: how it has changed his life and how he can never go back into his much loved profession.  But he has blogged about his experience in a positive way; how he has been determined to overcome his disability, knowing that there were others far worse off than he.  Despite having frustrating days, Johan understands that he faces the same issues as others who have been permanently injured and this sense of shared identity has been crucial in promoting strong on-line relationships.

His many readers have developed a strong empathy with Johan and when his mother recently wanted to raise funds for an electric wheelchair, she made contact, via his blog, to his existing followers.  Within days, not only was the money raised for the wheelchair but also offers of job opportunities also came. Continue reading


Crisis: It could happen to you!

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4 Easy Ways to Deal with Stress

If you need to respond quickly to a negative, corporate situation that has taken place and impacted your organisation, there are many techniques and procedures available in order to manage it and to successfully communicate with all parties concerned.

Sending out a Press Release

Consideration should be given to sending out a Press Release in order to inform the media together with your shareholders or stakeholders, of the current situation whilst simultaneously delivering a very clear message that demonstrates your confidence in dealing with the situation.  How you respond in the first 24 hours may be vital to maintaining production and also morale both within the business and externally.  The confidence of both customers and suppliers can very easily be permanently lost overnight – in the event that you fail to manage such a situation professionally. Time here is of the essence! Continue reading


Anger Management: Does Modern Life Make you Angry?

Traffic jams, supermarket queues, computer crashes or a crowded metro are all stressors that can upset us and make us angry. We become irritable with our colleagues and shout at our family and loved ones. We become obsessed with trivia and suddenly that which should be the lowest of our priorities, develops into the most important problem in our life.

This is because our expectations are such that everybody will be on time and everything will always work immediately as we expect it to.

The doctor’s appointment was at 9 am so why are we still waiting at 9.30 and consequently being late for work? Our computer unexpectedly crashed again although it was only ‘fixed’ yesterday and now that vital report will be late and we have to apologise to the General Manager!

These incidents happen around us all the time and because our lives are so finely tuned, it only takes one small thing to go wrong and the rest of our day can be ruined and our complete agenda disrupted. Then, all we really want to do is to go back to bed and start again!

When something goes wrong, we find ourselves trying to apportion blame onto others which may, or may not, rebound against us. Our emotions start to get the better of us and we lose control; our anger rises to the surface and the first person we come into contact with experiences our rage and disappointment. It is not a pleasant experience for either ourselves or our colleagues.

A London Daily Telegraph report recently cited a survey which found that 90% of people get upset by dealing with call centres while 50% become so angry when their computers crash, and they lose their work, that they physically attack them.

We all can get angry and there is nothing wrong with the occasional loss of temper. In fact, it is probably better to show our emotions rather than to keep them bottled-up inside. Continue reading


Mother Nature as a Stress Reliever

As an avid gardener, I listened very carefully when I heard that Headley Court, the UK’s armed forces’ dedicated rehabilitation centre, is offering gardening therapy to their patients – servicemen and women – who are trying to heal wounds gained in combat and to rejoin their units as quickly as possible, albeit sometimes in a different role.

Headley Court is situated close to Epsom and is set in 85 acres of magnificent landscaped gardens adjacent to the National Trust parkland.

Many of the young soldiers at Headley Court are coming to terms with severe physical injuries, whilst others are recovering from the mental trauma of the battlefield.  Most are still highly motivated and feel frustrated about being unable to do the job for which they trained so hard and having to leave their comrades behind on the frontline.

The staff at Headley Court endeavour to empathise with each soldier and to focus their treatment on getting service personnel fit again for operational duty or, in the case of the severely injured, preparing them for life outside of the armed forces.

This made me think about those soldiers who may have lost a limb, and will never be on active service again. They will have a huge adjustment to make in their personal lives and a new career to carve out as best they can.

Those of us who have to move jobs, for whatever reason, will certainly appreciate how challenging a change of job can be.  But how much more difficult must it be to come to terms with a serious psychological or physiological problem, at the same time.

Soldiers are never trained to deal with this type of personal loss – but only how to manage situations in a military environment, where danger is endemic.  Therefore, when the reality of personal injury hits a soldier, particularly when that injury is permanent, the ensuing shock, denial and anger that may follow is invariably a major challenge.

For those who will never return to their chosen profession of being a soldier, it will be a time of serious reassessment, valuing what they still actually have in terms of personal strengths and physical assets, and turning over a page in their individual book of life. For a soldier who has committed their lives to the armed forces, it may be a challenge.

I know that the Paralympic Games will be run alongside the Olympics, in 2012, and will offer athletes with a physical disability the opportunity to compete and strive for equal treatment in the highly competitive arena of sport. For the soldier who is now an amputee, who has had to learn how to walk again with a prosthetic limb, this is exactly the kind of challenge they will need, both mentally and physically, to support their rehabilitation.

When I read of Headley Court, I wonder how and where does gardening fit in with other therapies.  I believe that to plant a seed and see it grow is not only highly satisfying but it also gives a sense of achievement and purpose.  Enjoying the beauty of a flower, a shrub or a tree can help to relieve so much stress in life.  Being able to focus on something else, other than their injuries, can not only aid a soldier’s recovery but also takes them into another world of peace and tranquility. A world of nature in which there is always new life and renewal.

I am very fortunate to have a garden where I can see a majestic willow tree at the bottom of my garden; large conifers that sweep upwards to a height of over 20 meters and give me privacy and quiet. During Spring and Summer, I spend many hours planting, watering and watching new life grow as seedlings become plants.    There is nothing more perfect for me, on a sunny day, to listen to my favourite music playing in the background and working in my garden.

Very often, being close to nature in a garden, may well help injured soldiers achieve a new sense of purpose and to appreciate what they still have, and not to focus on what they have lost, and which gives them that most valuable of personal assets – hope.

Key Points

  • Physical or mental injury is challenging
  • Mother Nature can serve to relieve stress
  • Hope, is our most valuable personal asset

[Reprinted with the kind permission of Gulf News]

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