Traumatic experiences can overwhelm our minds and bodies and impact our daily lives, however everyone’s reactions to trauma will be different. People can recover from exposure to trauma with the help and support of family, friends and community but for some the impacts of trauma can be devastating. There is help available.

What is trauma?

Trauma is exposure, both direct and indirect, to an event or events such as threats to life, serious injury or sexual violence that are deeply distressing, disturbing and frightening. Trauma can impact a person’s physical or psychological safety and wellbeing. Whilst everyone will react to events in different ways, some events that may be traumatic include:

  • Violent crimes such as armed robbery
  • Interpersonal violence such as rape or childhood abuse
  • Loss, such as loss of a family member or loved one, loss of employment, home or status
  • War and civil conflict
  • Natural disasters such as bushfires, floods or earthquakes
  • Motor vehicle or workplace accident

Just as people will perceive events such as those highlighted above differently, reactions to traumatic events also differ from person to person. Many people will have significant physical or emotional reactions following a traumatic event. This is normal and part of our mind and body’s way of recovering from the event. How long these types of impacts last will vary depending on several factors such as previous experiences including exposure to traumatic events, available resources and supports and personality. For most people, these types of reactions are not severe and will reduce in intensity and frequency after a short time. Some common trauma reactions however might include:

  • physical changes including being jumpy or easily startled, difficulties sleeping and body aches or pains
  • a sense of reliving the traumatic event/s with intrusive thoughts, flashbacks or nightmares
  • avoiding reminders of the event/s
  • social isolation and withdrawal
  • feeling numb
  • experiencing negative thoughts and low mood
  • difficulty regulating emotions
  • feeling different from others
  • feeling irritable and wound up
  • sleep disturbances
  • self-harm or self-destructive behaviours

Looking after yourself and getting support following a traumatic event is vital and what will work for you may not for another. Below are some suggestions on how to cope with exposure to a traumatic event.

  • Acknowledge that you have been through a traumatic event and that having any physical or emotional reaction is not only normal but healthy and part of the healing process.
  • Connect with others that you feel safe and supported by - talking to family, friends, a counsellor, religious leader or a crisis line, can help you better understand your experiences and find ways to recover.
  • Express your feelings as they arise. Discuss them with someone else or write them down in a diary. Expressing feelings often helps the healing process.
  • Reach out for additional support from a health professional you trust such as your GP, psychologist, psychiatrist, counsellor or social worker to explore your reactions to the traumatic experience and look at ways to manage these.
  • Look after yourself — eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly and get enough sleep. Take time out to relax and do things you used to enjoy, even if you don’t feel like it.
  • Try to create as much stability and structure in your daily life as you can – having a routine can help with feeling safe. Try creating a timetable including different areas of your life including time to relax and repair.
  • Avoid use of alcohol, drugs, prescription medication or other substances as a way of avoiding difficult thoughts and feelings.
  • For ongoing treatment and mental health, support speak with your GP about a potential referral to a mental health professional
  • For further information on trauma and mental health visit Phoenix Australia 
  • The Blue Knot Foundation – National Centre of Excellence for complex trauma
  • Emerging Minds 


For Crisis Support contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 (24/7) or via text (12pm-midnight AEST) on 0477 13 11 14

Chris' Story

Here Chris shares his experience of trauma after living through three bushfires, including the harrowing Black Saturday fires of 2009.  He gifts us the strategies he now uses to live post trauma and shares how he helps others recover after similar experiences.