Get help with the practicalities
In the first few weeks, a lot of practical questions arise. They can be difficult to manage when you're feeling unwell, so it's important to seek support from someone you like and trust. Start by talking about what you specifically need. It could be a place to sleep or someone who will sleep over at your place. Help getting a restraining order, help cleaning up your home after a break-in or help organising a funeral.
Talk to your loved ones
When you're ready, talk about what happened. Intrusive thoughts, images and dreams about what happened are very uncomfortable to carry around yourself. That's why the first step is to tell your loved ones about the incident over and over again - it helps you to piece together the many fragments and impressions into a coherent story, and many people find that the intrusive sensory impressions subside. Choose someone you feel comfortable with and find a convenient time to talk without being interrupted. If you like to write, this can also be a great way to verbalise the experience.
- Don't say anything because you don't want to upset others
- Don't say anything because you don't want to be a burden
- Assume others won't listen
- Wait until you are so stressed and exhausted that you can't benefit from the help
Accept your reactions
Some post-reactions are scary. It's as if you've lost control for a while. The feelings are more intense and overwhelming than you've experienced before. Your body also reacts without you having any control over it. Try to accept your reactions for what they are - reactions to an unusual and horrific experience that has naturally shaken you mentally and physically. If there were others involved in the incident, it can be helpful to talk to them about the reactions they are experiencing.
Confront yourself with what happened
Facing reality is an important part of processing a traumatic experience. Ask someone you feel comfortable with to be with you about it. Talk about the incident, visit the place where it happened, look at photographs, see the broken things, see the deceased and attend the funeral. Crisis psychologists are trained to help traumatised people cope with the confrontation.
Most people initially experience an overwhelming sense of anxiety - a fear that it could happen again, or a sudden reminder of the experience. You can calm yourself by taking deep, regular breaths. Think calming thoughts or speak soothing words to yourself. Choose a phrase that you can feel gives you peace, e.g. it's over now, I'm safe now.
Slowly return to your daily routines
When you realise that you can handle some small everyday tasks, it gives you the feeling that everyday life can return. Every now and then, you'll have a moment of respite where you don't actually think about the incident. Listen to relaxing and pleasant music. Resume exercise or similar activities you did before the incident.
Utilise your network
Seek support from the people you care about. Your friends and family share your grief, and many of your loved ones will feel powerless - they want to help, but don't always know how. Some may push too hard and others may hold back too much. So don't be afraid to tell them what you need, whether it's practical help or a good, patient listener.
Seek professional help if...
Some say to wait and see, others say to seek help immediately. The first thing to do is to listen to yourself and your reactions. If you choose to take your time, it's a good idea to take stock after a month - at this point, many people will feel better. If, on the other hand, you're still suffering from the post-reactions and struggling to function in your everyday life, don't leave it alone. Make an appointment with your doctor for a referral to psychological counselling. Read more about how to get professional help.
Don't keep it a secret if you still feel bad for a long time after the incident - in the worst case scenario, the after-effects can become chronic and lead to other conditions such as depression and anxiety disorders.