Studies show that about 60% of the US population has reported experiencing at least one trauma symptom in their lifetime. The good news is that this is not a permanent condition, there are effective treatments! Read on to learn more.
What is Emotional and Psychological Trauma?
Emotional and psychological trauma occurs when a person is exposed to very distressing circumstances that leave them struggling to function normally afterward. The emotional response can range from extremely upsetting emotions and anxiety to feeling completely numb and disconnected.
Typically, when most people think of emotional trauma, they associate it with life-threatening events such as military combat, domestic violence, or sexual abuse. However, there is a very broad range of situations that can yield traumatic experiences.
What is a Traumatic Event?
A few elements that are commonly present in traumatic events are:
- The person was not prepared for the situation or it was completely unexpected
- The individual felt incapable or powerless in preventing the event
- The stressful occurrence happened during childhood
- What transpired was associated with extreme cruelty
Even though we typically associate trauma with a single event, it’s not always necessarily the case. Though people can certainly experience trauma from a single occurrence, it can also be the result of continual exposure to unrelenting stress. It may be the cumulative toll of living in a dangerous neighborhood, daily bullying, years of domestic violence, etc.
Whatever the source, its magnitude or perceived severity is less important than the effects on the individual. There is no shame in experiencing trauma from stressful events that others may not perceive as severe. Every person is different and their causes for, and reactions to trauma are also different.
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Symptoms of Emotional Trauma
Emotional reactions to trauma vary from person to person. Though there are many common reactions, each person may exhibit their own subset of symptoms of trauma. They encompass a wide array of emotional and physiological responses. We won’t cover all of them here, but among them are:
- Fatigue or exhaustion
- Easily or frequently startled
- Excessive alertness, always looking for threats, low sense of safety
- Racing Heartbeat (Tachycardia)
- Constantly agitated or on edge
- Confusion, difficulty concentrating, loss of memory
- A persistent sense of fear
- Shock, denial, or disbelief
- Guilt and/or shame
- Numbness, feeling disconnected
- Sadness or hopelessness
- Mood swings, irritability
Remember, people don’t need to experience all of these symptoms in order to qualify as a trauma response. However, if some of these symptoms persist for at least a month, it is very likely the case.
Effects of Untreated Psychological Trauma
If emotional trauma is left untreated, it can continue to worsen and slowly make the world of the affected individual smaller and smaller until they’ve completely isolated themselves. These individuals can manifest avoidance behaviors, aggressive behaviors, and various self-destructive behaviors that can worsen over time. Effective treatments for trauma are available and it’s important to get help. If left unchecked, common effects can be:
- Substance Abuse
- Social Withdrawal
- Compulsive behavioral patterns
- Sexual Problems
- Self-destructive Behaviors
- Dissociative Symptoms
When to get Treatment for Trauma
When you begin to feel that your past or current traumatic experience is interfering with your life, you should get help. Particularly, if your symptoms are worsening; even if the event was months ago. There are many effective treatment options available and trauma recovery is possible.
A licensed mental health therapist can assist you on the path to recovery. Studies show that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be especially helpful for trauma. This is a type of talk therapy where negative emotions and thoughts are identified and then discussed. The goal is to replace them with healthier ones.
For Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, cognitive behavioral therapy isn’t always as effective. However, there are other treatments like computerized treatments or animal-assisted therapy. A mental health professional can help you find the right treatment for you.
Immediately I can hear some of you asking, how long does it take? Though unsatisfying, there is no “one size fits all” answer to this question. Every person is different and their journey to recovery and restoring their sense of security is different. It can take weeks or months. No matter how long it takes, it’s worth it. It’s also important that you understand that anyone guaranteeing that you can recover in x number of days is either uninformed or more interested in your wallet than your mental health.
Tips for Recovery
Though there is no substitute for the help of a qualified mental health professional, there are several things you can do to help promote healthy behaviors and reduce the frequency and development of unhealthy ones.
The physical symptoms of trauma can put your body into a constant state of hyperarousal. The fear spikes your adrenaline and it’s healthy to engage in activities that help burn through it. Exercising for at least 30 minutes on most days can provide relief. Rhythmic exercises where you can involve your arms and legs, for example, walking, running, swimming, or dancing are best.
Connect With Others
As time goes by, you may feel the urge to isolate yourself. It’s important that you don’t give in to that and instead connect with your friends, family, loved ones, meet new people, etc. Needing some time alone is healthy, but too much time alone dwelling on your traumatic event is counterproductive. Try to cultivate hobbies that you can do with others, accept lunch invitations and spend time with other people. If interacting with others is uncomfortable or creates anxiety seek help from a counselor or therapist that can help you work through it.
The traumatic event can generate a lot of stress and anxiety. Meditation is a great way to alleviate some of that stress. Your goal during meditation is to bring your focus and attention to the present moment. Focus on your breath instead of engaging with your distressing thoughts. It can be difficult, but with practice, it can help reduce the stress you are feeling.
One More Thing
We covered a lot about emotional trauma today. We discussed physiological and psychological symptoms, treatments, and even a few helpful tips that you can practice on your own. The last thing I want to add may also be one of the most important.
Remember that even though it may not feel like it, your feelings are normal. It’s the event or circumstances that created the trauma that is abnormal. It’s critical to understand that, so I’ll say it again, your feelings are normal. During this time, remember to be gentle with yourself and practice self-compassion, you deserve it.
There are many great options to help you manage and overcome your trauma-related symptoms. If you’d like my help dealing with trauma, feel free to reach out to me. I’d be honored to take this journey with you.