How to deal with trauma after a break in
Let’s face it, being burgled is downright scary and can have a huge emotional impact on you and your loved ones. How it leaves us feeling is often much more disturbing than what’s actually been taken.
Psychiatry professor, Dr. Louis West, suggests that many people see their home as an extension of themselves. So when that space is penetrated and defiled, we feel extremely violated.1
Statistics show that 60% of victims never feel secure in their homes again and, on average, it takes them seven months to return to some level of normality in their home.2 But with expert advice and the right tools, you can face your trauma in its early stages to prevent it from spiralling out of control.
Stage 1: The more you feel the more you heal
You may initially feel shock, anger and fear, as well as helplessness, guilt and panic.3 But remember that what you’re going through is normal. And it’s not your fault.
Psychologists say that painful emotions must be dealt with directly to recover from a traumatic experience. If they are repressed or forgotten, distressing feelings will replay over and over in the course of a lifetime, and could create post-traumatic stress disorder.4
So, how can we face up to these feelings?
Have a heart-to-heart
Acknowledging your emotion will help you to process it. Talk to someone you trust. If others were affected by the burglary, it can help to share your feelings with each other. Victim Support and the Samaritans are also there to offer unbiased, professional advice.
Remember to breathe
If your emotions get the better of you, or it all just becomes a bit much, try a simple breathing exercise.5 This is recommended by doctors to reduce levels of shock, panic and stress. Practicing it as part of your daily routine can even prevent the onset of anxiety by keeping you grounded in the present.
Get back to normal life
Try and get back into your normal day-to-day routine as soon as possible. Time off work will only give you more time to dwell on what’s happened. Give yourself things to look forward to, like a dinner party with friends or a fun day out. Find a healthy balance – keep busy but allow yourself time to relax.
Be kind to yourself
Remember, you are not to blame; so don’t beat yourself up. With high levels of stress, your body needs all the love it can get. Eat regular, nutritious meals and get enough sleep. Avoid things that "numb" the pain, such as alcohol, as they’ll make you feel worse once the numbness wears off.6 Get outdoors and connect with your surroundings – time in nature is scientifically proven to boost wellbeing7 and exercise releases those feel-good endorphins.8
Stage 2: Rebuilding your empire
These feelings may turn to grief, sadness, despair, mistrust and vulnerability – among others.9 But it’s time to accept what you can’t change and move forward with what you can.
As the wise Socrates once said: ‘The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.’10 Being proactive and rebuilding what’s lost will help you bounce back even stronger and regain a sense of control and power in your life.
So what practical measures can you take?
Destroy all evidence
Leaving evidence of the break-in lying around only serves as a painful reminder. Repairing any damage and giving your home a general clean-up is very therapeutic and will help you let go. Clear living space = clear mental space.
If you have home insurance, get a crime reference number from the police and make a claim.
Improve home security
If you’re afraid of burglars returning, there are LOADS of things you can do to make your home safer.
Get to know your neighbours
Building a relationship with neighbours will make you feel less vulnerable and help restore your faith in society and the community. Forming a neighbourhood watch programme cements the group’s trust, so you can all look out for each other.
Challenge destructive thoughts
If you are experiencing paranoia/stress/anxiety, or just feeling on edge, start writing down your thoughts, how you feel about them, and how often they are surfacing. Talking to a counsellor can help you take a step back, challenge negative thoughts and find coping techniques that work for you. Research shows that practicing mindfulness actually remodels the physical structure of your brain,11 so you can look at your thoughts objectively, rather than becoming lost in them.
Stage 3: You’re stronger than you think you are
In time, you may develop more serious emotional problems such as depression, anxiety attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder and sleeping difficulties.12 But the human psyche has a tremendous capacity for recovery and even growth,13 so start seeing yourself for what you really are – a survivor, not a victim.
One in four people experience mental health issues after a break-in, such as increased anxiety or symptoms of depression.14 Yet the wake of crisis offers a door of opportunity to learn and grow – at rates 100x faster than usual, psychologists say.15
So how can we grow?
Get a good night’s sleep
Sleeping can be difficult after a break-in, but it’s absolutely vital. It gives you the mental energy needed to process your emotion.
- Set regular times for going to bed and waking up
- Relax before bed time
- Use thick curtains or blinds, an eye mask and earplugs to stop you being woken up by light and noise
- Avoid caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, heavy meals and exercise for a few hours before going to bed
- Don’t watch TV or use phones, tablets or computers shortly before going to bed
- Don’t nap during the day16
Try an app
There are a number of NHS-approved apps that use Cognitive Behavioural Therapy as a basis for alleviating stress, anxiety or depression, and helping you understand how your mind works. These include: Stress & Anxiety Companion, Ieso, Catch It, Fear Fighter, HeadSpace and SilverCloud.
Seek medical help
If you’re experiencing any of the following, see your doctor or call NHS 111:
- Feeling restless or worried and suffering from dizziness, heart palpitations or panic attacks17.
- Having flashbacks, reliving the break-in and feeling on edge18.
- Feeling down for most of the day, every day, for more than two weeks19.
Learn from it
As good ol’ Dr Phil tells us: ‘Take the time to ask yourself what you’ve learned from going through this experience. There is value in all experiences; it just may take a closer look or a little time to see what it is.’20 Maybe it’s brought your family closer together. Maybe it’s put everything into perspective so you don’t worry about the little things. Maybe it’s made you realise and appreciate what you HAVE got. One thing’s for sure – you’ll have grown stronger, wiser and braver from the experience – and you can’t put a price on that.
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