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Coping with fear and anxiety after a traumatic event

Published by: LifeWorks,

How to cope with fear and anxiety after trauma

It’s normal to feel anxious and afraid after experiencing a trauma, such as a natural disaster, a catastrophic accident, a sudden loss or an act of violence. Following a trauma, you may have fears about driving, flying, fires, being in tall buildings, or leaving your home. You may also experience other fears, either for your safety or a loved one’s safety, that are not even directly related to the traumatic events. Reminders and events can act as triggers and bring back painful memories and emotions long after the event is over.

Remember that it’s normal to feel fearful for weeks, months or even years after a trauma. If you’ve experienced a personal tragedy or hardship, such as the death of a loved one, difficult emotions can feel even more intense and unmanageable. Keep in mind the below:

Remember that most people are not quite their usual selves after a trauma

It’s normal to have some or all of the following symptoms for some time following a trauma:

  • sadness and crying
  • inability to concentrate
  • fear and anxiety
  • inability to sleep or sleeping all the time
  • distressing dreams
  • a general sense of uneasiness
  • depression
  • irritability or outbursts of anger
  • eating too much or not enough
  • extreme reactions to loud noises
  • returning to old habits

Realise that your mood and feelings may be intense and constantly changing. 

You may be more irritable than usual or your mood may change dramatically during the course of the day or from one day to the next.

Spend extra time with the people who are concerned about you.

Talk about the recent events and about how you are feeling and what’s concerning you most.

Take care of yourself.

Get enough sleep and eat well-balanced meals. Try to maintain normal routines and keep to a regular pattern of eating and sleeping to ensure that you have the strength to cope with stress. You may even want to create new routines.

Get as much exercise as possible.

Exercise helps relieve stress, even if it’s just a quick walk, both by making you feel better physically and by distracting you from your concerns for a while.

Seek support from your faith community.

Many people find comfort in their religious beliefs and from their faith communities during difficult times.

Talk with a counsellor or other mental health professional if your fears or emotions are affecting your personal or work life.

For example, if you notice that you are very irritable or have little patience with others or if your fears are interfering with your ability to cope, you would probably benefit from professional help. Your doctor can help or contact your employee assistance programme (EAP).

If you have nightmares of past traumas or overwhelming feelings of sadness, grief or fear, seek support from a mental health professional.

Traumatic events can trigger memories of past losses. Your EAP or doctor can help you find a counsellor who has experience with treating your concerns.

You can also read our guide on coping for additional support. 

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