Traumatic events can impact our sense of security, resulting in us feeling helpless and vulnerable, seeing the world as dangerous. This traumatic stress can have a significant impact on how we feel in the days and weeks following a traumatic event. There are a number of very common psychological and emotional responses that occur in the days and weeks following a traumatic event. It is not uncommon for people to experience a range of emotional responses to traumatic stress, including fear/anxiety, shock/disbelief, sadness/grief, hopelessness, guilt, shame and relief. People can also experience a variety of psychological symptoms in the days and weeks following traumatic stress, including: intrusive thoughts or images about the event; restlessness, nervous energy; cognitive symptoms such as concentration difficulties, memory problems and confusion; sleep problems and nightmares; social withdrawal; loss of appetite or cravings for “comfort foods”; increased use of alcohol or drugs; and unexplained aches and pains, headaches, muscle tension and fatigue.
These responses are normal in the days and weeks following a traumatic stress and these emotions and symptoms are not Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Although these emotional reactions in the days and weeks following a traumatic stressor look a lot like symptoms and PTSD, the progression of symptoms is different. Typically, in the days and weeks following the traumatic stressor, these symptoms will gradually improve and the emotional responses usually fade within a month. In Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) the psychological responses to the traumatic stress persist beyond a month, resulting in a person being emotionally “stuck” following the traumatic stressor.
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