WHEN SOMETHING BAD HAS HAPPENED…
DON’T STAY TRAPPED IN TRAUMA
Trauma can be very positive – but what you take out of it is your choice. It might prompt you to take stock of your life, ask why you’re here, and find more meaning in life. However, it’s possible to become stuck in one of the stages of grieving after a trauma:
1. Shock and denial
2. Bargaining: you bully yourself, focus on the past (‘If only I’d…) and feel unrealistic guilt
3. Anger: you feel enraged by the injustice of what happened
If you get stuck, you’ll feel negative, unsafe and vulnerable all the time. The final stage, acceptance, is about reality. Accepting life with all its risks and rewards is not easy, but it’s how things really are.
THE SIGNS OF POSTTRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER
The symptoms of PTSD, which can affect victims of trauma such as rape, serious car accidents and natural disasters, persist for at least a month. Check yourself for any of the following symptoms:
* Being plagued by thoughts, feelings and memories of the experience, often in dreams
* Feeling anxious and distressed when reminded of the experience
* Avoiding all reminders of the incident, including people, places, events and even clothes
* Feeling detached and emotionally numb
* Having difficulty sleeping
* Having impaired concentration
* Feeling anxious, continually tense, jumpy, hyper-vigilant and prone to angry outbursts
* Feeling hopeless about the future
It’s important to have a proper debrief with a trauma counsellor, in order to ‘archive’ the experience and write it off as an exception.
HOW TO STOP WORRYING (AND START HAVING A LIFE)
Do you worry continually? Is every headache a potential brain tumour? Some people are born with higher anxiety ‘settings’. If you’re one of them, there’s a fine line between healthy levels of motivating anxiety and too much, which can tip you over into dysfunction and negatively affect your life. As a naturally anxious person, you also have a higher risk of turning to substance abuse to block out anxious thoughts.
If your worries continually move from one issue to another, you’re suffering from ‘free-floating anxiety’ and you’ll keep finding new issues to pin your anxiety on. Trying to deal with each worry as it crops up – a sudden fear of breast cancer after reading a magazine article, for instance – won’t solve this type of problem. If you’re generally anxious, you need to tackle the root cause with a therapist.
Once you understand what’s causing your anxiety, you’re halfway to curing it. For instance, perhaps you’ve been worrying about strangers approaching you since being mugged; in this case, your anxiety could be a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Become more conscious of why and when irrational, negative thoughts lodge in your headspace. When you catch yourself worrying, ask yourself, ‘Am I feeling particularly anxious at the moment?’ (Check for physical signals such as a raised pulse rate, nausea and shortness of breath.) If so, try to work out why. Be aware of what’s happening in your life, and learn to identify sources of your anxiety. For example, job stress can raise your general anxiety level and an article on infertility may trigger your specific worry of ending up as a childless spinster.
Give your worries boundaries
Here’s an example: ‘For a few months after my long-term boyfriend broke up with me, I found myself worrying about whether I’d ever meet another man,’ says Jay, 27. ‘I kept adding up how many years I had left to find a guy if I wanted to have kids by 35, and I felt panicky and insecure. After a friend asked me: “What are you worrying about? You’re still young!”, I decided to give myself until 32 before even thinking about marriage and kids. Once I’d given myself that space, I could relax and focus on enjoying being single.’
Learn to chill out
Returning regularly to a state of tranquillity lowers your general anxiety levels and makes you less prone to worrying. Try meditation, yoga or calming breathing exercises. Visualisation also helps: lie down with your eyes shut and picture yourself in a peaceful scene such as a deserted beach, or see your problems as balloons and shoot them down from the sky.
Get rid of the adrenaline
Worry and anxiety trigger your body’s fight-or-flight stress response, and this adrenaline needs somewhere to go. Just 30 minutes of exercise that makes you sweat, three times a week, or regular full-body massages, are two brilliant outlets for mental and muscular tension.
Watch a comedy, try to cook a challenging new dish or read a novel with a thrilling plot. It’ll take your mind off the worry treadmill.
Don’t take on too much
Do you feel you never have the time to finish tasks, let alone relax? Decide what your priorities are and make sure they take precedence over duties and favours for others. Learn to say no to tasks you know will bring stress and worry into your life.