What to Expect After a Traumatic Injury

A traumatic injury is a milestone in your life–a moment in time you will always view in terms of “before” and “after”. Physical healing and physical and occupational therapy are only part of the recovery process. You will also need to heal mentally and emotionally. That’s why it’s essential to be patient and kind with yourself. People respond to trauma in a variety of ways, depending on their personality, their past history, and the type of trauma they have been through. In the first few weeks after a traumatic injury, you may experience a combination of the following:

  • Physical reactions: You’ve been through a lot and it’s normal to feel like your energy is very low, to the point of fatigue or even exhaustion. However, some people have the opposite reaction and become hyperactive. You may be sleeping too much, or too little. You may be easily startled and find yourself trembling for no reason. You may experience digestive issues and/or a loss of appetite.
  • Cognitive reactions: You must–and you will–move past what has happened to you but that can be tough to do at first. You may feel like you are stuck in the traumatic incident and have a hard time putting it into perspective. Many people experience short term memory problems and poor concentration. Flashbacks are also a common phenomenon.
  • Emotional reactions: Perhaps you are feeling anxious and fearful, or especially sensitive. You may want to withdraw and be by yourself. Many people find they are more fearful after a traumatic injury. Others become more irritable and quick to anger. Guilt may also factor in, for those who feel the traumatic incident was somehow their fault, or are impatient with themselves because they are not as resilient as they would like to be.

ANY and ALL of the above reactions are a normal part of healing and grieving. Imagine how you would feel if someone you care about went through a traumatic experience like yours. You would be gentle, patient, and empathetic with them. Try to view yourself with the same compassion.

Risk factors for developing ASD after a traumatic event:

  • Previous experience with one or more traumatic events
  • Having had PTSD in the past
  • Having had previous mental health problems
  • A tendency towards disassociation when confronted with trauma

Self-Care for Your Recovery

Give yourself some space! Allow yourself time to feel bad and grieve. At the same time, try to pay attention to your inner monolog. Don’t judge yourself or your reactions. This is a challenging time in your life and you are adjusting to what has happened to you. The most powerful thing you can do to help yourself is to talk to someone about your experience and your feelings. Tap into your social network. Friends and family can lend a sympathetic ear. If you are really struggling, the best person to talk to is a trained professional, such as a counselor, therapist, or psychiatrist.

Stress Reducers

A traumatic experience can leave you feeling helpless and vulnerable. But the truth is, there are a lot of small but meaningful things you can do to help yourself heal, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

  • Physically: Eat lightly, but nutritiously and limit or eliminate caffeine, alcohol, sugar, and nicotine. Drink lots of water. If you are able to exercise, do so. Even a little bit of movement can help. Breathe deeply and take mini breaks, such as a brief nap or a walk around the block. Don’t watch anything violent on TV–try listening to some soothing music instead. Limit your driving. Treat yourself to a nice massage.
  • Mentally: Don’t worry about being unusually distracted. This too shall pass. In the meantime, set realistic goals. You can compensate for concentration issues by writing to do lists, keeping a calendar, and leaving for appointments 20 minutes earlier than you normally would. Avoid irritating situations such as crowds, long lines, or arguments. Do something fun–whether it’s spending quality time with someone supportive and interesting or engaging in your favorite hobby.
  • Spiritually: Getting in touch with the spiritual part of yourself can be wonderfully healing.Let go of past guilt and any preoccupation with things you cannot change. Forgive yourself and others for past mistakes. Engage in a religious practice that nurtures and inspires you. It could be singing and prayer, yoga or meditation, affirmations, or guided imagery. If you can get outdoors and be in nature, that can be a healing experience as well.
  • Emotionally. Talk to a friend, therapist, counselor, or spiritual leader, or look into a virtual or in-person support group. Listen compassionately to others. Let your emotions go. Have a good cry if you need to, laugh as much as you can, and hug your loved ones. If you’re feeling anger, let it out: write down your feelings, exercise, or even let out a cathartic scream as long as it won’t scare the neighbors!. Reflect on the simple beauty that surrounds us–flowers, a vivid sunset, or a perfect, sunny day.

Get the Help You Need

If you think you may be suffering from ASD, you need to be assessed by a mental health professional. Addressing ASD early can prevent the progression to PTSD. MarinHealth Medical Center has a robust Behavioral Health Program offering both inpatient and outpatient care. A variety of community resources are also available to provide care and counseling.