After the Boston Marathon – The Emotional Trauma

The recent explosions at the Boston marathon may cause a ripple of trauma through our nation.  For those people that were physically present during the explosions, we expect that they may experience trauma symptoms.  What we can’t predict, is how it will impact the people who were not physically present, but watched as the news unfolded on their local TV stations or CNN.   

Traumatizing events, like the Boston Marathon, are events that disrupt the normal regulation of the nervous system. Essentially, they can be thought of as events that catch us off guard, that happen unexpectedly, that make us feel in fear of our safety and sometimes our life and in that moment, we feel powerless to prevent.  

It’s been reported that over 1500 changes occur in the body when we shift from feeling safety to feeling a life threat.

Everyone has experienced trauma at some point in their life. Some have experienced big trauma (car accidents, physical assaults, disasters, terrorism, tragic accidents, health diagnosis and even divorce) and others small trauma (being unprepared for an event, a brush with disaster, bullying) most of the time, we process trauma through to “full resolution” – meaning, in a reasonable amount of time, it becomes a story we can tell without an emotional response. But sometimes, trauma gets stuck and does not get processed through to full resolution. This is can be very evident when people can’t tell the story without having a visceral, or body response.   

Anyone can become traumatized with primary, secondary, or vicarious trauma. This includes, people standing on the finish line of the Boston Marathon, the first responders to the event, the people who only heard the sirens, and the millions who watched it on the news. How the information will get processed depends on an individual’s history, coping skills, their larger meaning of the event, and the reactions of their family and friends.

Symptoms of trauma are never a sign of weakness.

  • ·         Decreased social interaction
  • ·         Increased startle response
  • ·         Stomach/digestion issues
  • ·         Excessive sweating or chills
  • ·         Increased heart rate
  • ·         Intrusive imagery in waking and sleep
  • ·         Inability to sleep
  • ·         Anxiety
  • ·         Depression
  • ·         Headaches
  • ·         Moodiness
  • ·         Memory problem
  • ·         Inability to stay focused

Before they can be effectively treated, a person should have their basic needs met of water, food, and a place of safety. Then, adults and children need resources around them to process and integrate the event = people & information.  If after a couple of weeks, these normal trauma symptoms persist, a person should reach out to a trauma specialist for additional help.

Contemporary developments in the healing of trauma have shown to be less medication driven and more inclusive of neurology and psychology.  This includes therapies that combine psycho-education (educating people about normal body and brain responses) with talk therapy. Therapists like myself, who work with trauma, find that when people are educated about what’s normal, they are relieved to discover they too are often normal.  

For additional information:

American Psychological Association

Eye Movement Desensitization/Reprocessing (EMDR)