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Business News/ News / Business Of Life/  Piecing it back after mental trauma

Piecing it back after mental trauma

It is Mental Illness Awareness Week (4-10 October) and a key learning during this period is to know and realize that asking for help to cope with trauma is not a bad thing

Don’t ignore stressPremium
Don’t ignore stress


You’ve faced something terrible recently—maybe an accident, sexual assault, or witnessed a bloody fight. Your heart palpitates, the vision just does not go out of your head, you get nightmares and feel detached. In other words, you might be going through post-traumatic stress. “Trauma is an act of violence or natural disaster, something which is not in our control," says Samir Parikh, director, mental health and behavioural sciences, Fortis Healthcare, Delhi. “After the incident, there’s an urgent need to talk about what happened and how you feel about it and not bottle it up. If you ignore how the incident has affected you emotionally, which is what most Indians do, the stress leads to hyperarousal symptoms like palpitations, sleeplessness and nightmares." According to a study published in the February issue of Journal of Traumatic Stress, about 80% of people experience a traumatic event during their life, of whom 10% develop post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

The health guide on the website of the National Institute of Mental Health, US, mentions that stress symptoms can even be triggered by emotionally traumatic incidents like the loss of a loved one, retirement, divorce, becoming a parent, having gone through a chronic or acute illness, job loss or facing financial hardship, but according to Dr Parikh, rarely does it develop into PTSD. Surbhee Soni, clinical psychologist and founder of Horizon Expressive Therapy Centre in Delhi, agrees: “In most cases, PTSD develops only in severe conditions like sexual assault, accident or death of a loved one. The symptoms are so physically obvious that a person becomes immobile or loses the ability to talk. It’s also something that is more commonly seen in women than men." A pilot study published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress in August looked into the issue and found that women are at a higher risk of developing PTSD than men, especially following certain types of trauma such as accident and assault.

Though the first human reaction to any incident is shock and denial, it is normal to experience sleepless nights, anxiety, feel the need to cry, be irritated and develop eating disorders. “In most cases," says Dr Parikh, “it can be solved by going back to your normal routine at the earliest and talking about it with your family, friends and people who might have experienced the accident with you. A support system is very important." But if the symptoms do not disappear within a month or two and you are just not able to resume your normal routine, that’s when you need to consult a mental health doctor. Here are some more tips to help you get back on track after you have been through something terrible.


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Start now: Be it someone’s death, a traumatic accident or news of something bad, upon hearing about it, don’t sleep for about 6 hours. Talk to your loved ones and try to keep calm.


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Start now: Find a group which has experienced things similar to what you have, whether physical violence or injury, or death of a loved one. Try and meet the group regularly to talk about your
emotional journey.


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Start now: Be positive about your future, yourself and your outlook. Empathize and be
compassionate to the problems of other people. You will see a reduction in your own stress.


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Start now: Watch comedy shows on television, organize a jokes-only party in your house, attend laughter groups and read jokes. Laugh as much and as often as you can.


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Start now: Boost your mental energy with omega-3-rich foods like flaxseed, eggs, walnuts and soybeans.


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Start now: Thirty minutes of deep breathing meditation and yoga every day should help alleviate some of the stress caused by an incident.


If you have faced a physically traumatic incident recently, don’t ignore its mental repercussions. If required, seek professional help immediately. According to a study published in ‘Biological Psychiatry’ in December, medical intervention within hours of the incident is effective in reducing post-traumatic stress and related depression symptoms. “Our study concluded that the earlier you get medical intervention for your symptoms through therapy, the faster you will heal," says Barbara Rothbaum, associate vice-chair of clinical research, Emory University School of Medicine in the US, who was the chief proponent of the study.

Start now: “Do not avoid the incident’s memories," says Rothbaum, “Thinking about it, talking about it and engaging in self-care will help you overcome the incident." If you do not have a strong support system around you, get professional help.


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Start now: The dictionary defines “resilience" as the ability to recover quickly from illness, change, or misfortune. In other words, buoyancy of spirits, a quality which will help you get back on track after any incident. Believe that nothing, no matter how traumatic, will negatively affect your life or derail your big plans.


Though all of us go through shock and denial after a traumatic incident, most of us can get over it with the help of friends and families. If you haven’t been able to do so, you need the help of a mental health doctor. According to the guidelines of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, UK, you need to go to a professional psychologist or psychiatrist if:

uYou are overwhelmed by sadness, anxiety or nervousness

u You feel that you are not returning to your normal self after six weeks

u You have nightmares and cannot sleep

u You are getting on badly with those close to you

u You stay away from other people more and more

u Your work is suffering

u Those around you suggest that you seek help

u You are more accident-prone

u You are drinking or smoking too much, or using drugs to cope with your feelings.

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Published: 07 Oct 2013, 08:43 PM IST
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