I am newly married and my wife is about to give birth to our first child. Life has been very stressful over the last year and I am finding it difficult to cope with all the responsibility of being a husband, in addition to the panicked thoughts I have about not being a good father to my child.
Just over a year ago, I witnessed a car accident where a number of people died. I have not, since that day, been able to shake the images of what I saw from my mind. Often I do not sleep, I have frequent nightmares. Sometimes I have to pull over when I am driving as I experience panic attacks on my way to and from work. Whenever I confide in people about what I am experiencing they all say the same thing, ‘‘Just forget about it’’, but it is not easy and as much as I try to forget, I simply cannot. My work is suffering, my relationship is suffering and I worry very much.
Do you have any tips that can help me to cope?
When you have witnessed any form of distressing event, trauma is a normal and common response. Suffering from trauma can manifest in many ways, especially the consequent bouts of anxiety, the sleep issues, the episodes of panic and the damaging impact upon close relationships that you have expressed. To put plainly, everything that you are experiencing is completely normal after witnessing such a horrific accident. Added to this, is the fact that you are in a transitional point of your life, being newly married and about to become a father. I will say it again, it is only natural that you are experiencing anxiety and self-doubt.
It can feel incredibly isolating when people around you do not understand what you are going through. It is okay if others are unable to empathise with what you are feeling. It is important that you be the person to remind yourself each day that your experiencing is natural. That you have experienced a trauma and that you must take the necessary time to heal, whether others around you understand that or not. Counselling may help you in the long run to address your nightmares and panic attacks. There are also some wonderful meditation apps that are free to download and can be wonderfully helpful in tackling difficulties sleeping or during moments of panic. Becoming knowledgeable about breathing exercises is also a great way to feel in control in times of panic and will help you to feel in control in times of stress. I would also suggest having a notebook next to your bed, when you are struggling to fall asleep or if you have had a nightmare, write down your thoughts. Even if what you write does not make much sense, the act itself is cathartic for your subconscious mind.
Coping with trauma does not have a concrete timeline and it may take some time for you to feel like you have processed it properly. Additional healthy ways of coping are avoiding alcohol and eating a healthy diet, exercising and surrounding yourself with people who are supportive. All of these things will have a positive impact upon your mood, your emotions and eventually upon your outlook on life.
Once you are able to cultivate a good sleep routine and through breathing exercises feel in control of your panic attacks, things will start to feel better. The very fact that you are worrying about whether you will be a good father speaks volumes. Your concern over whether you will be good enough, tells me that you will be a brilliant father and that you will do your best. I would also try to be open with your wife about your fears. I am sure she has plenty of worries as well. If the relationship with your wife feels beyond your repair, couples counselling can also be beneficial to you both in addressing your concerns in a safe environment free from judgement.
One way in which trauma and witnessing death does impact us for the better is the way it allows us to be thankful for our health, for our loved ones, for our lives. Take a moment each day to be thankful for something. Sometimes one positive thought can extinguish one hundred negative ones.
Take good care, Jeremy. You are experiencing a valid emotional response to a truly terrible event. Do not be ashamed to feel vulnerable nor be embarrassed to take the time you feel you need to recover.
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