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Grief is a natural part of life and loss, which can affect many aspects of life. Understanding grief and the grieving process can help you cope with grief in a healthy and sustainable way.

What Is Grief?

Grief is your natural response to loss and trauma. Many situations, no matter big or small, can lead to grief. Here are some of the most common triggers that may result in grief:

  • Divorce or breakup
  • Health decline
  • Health decline of a loved one
  • Job loss and financial instability
  • Large change in life, i.e., graduating from college or changing careers
  • Retirement
  • Loss of a friendship
  • Loss of an important dream
  • Miscarriage
  • Death of a friend or family member
  • Traumatic death
  • Death of a pet

What Is Grief

The pain associated with grief can feel overwhelming, resulting in a lot of unexpected emotions and may cause physical side effects. Without healthy coping mechanisms, grief can strongly interfere with your physical health. You might find it difficult to eat, sleep, and even think.

Although grief is a normal part of life, it can evolve into a recognized mental health disorder, otherwise known as prolonged grief disorder (the official psychiatric name for the disorder) or complicated grief disorder. It happens whenever feelings of grief do not subside for months or years after the event.

Symptoms of Grief

Grief is accompanied by a wide range of emotions and symptoms. In many cases, intense feelings of sadness overcome the individual, but other feelings crop up too. Unresolved grief can also lead to physical symptoms, including chest pains, sore muscles, and headaches.

Experiencing these symptoms is a part of normal grief. However, being able to recognize them will help you to better handle them and develop ways to cope.

Symptoms of Grief

Emotional Symptoms of Grief

Emotional symptoms of grief often include periods of sadness, intense sadness, painful memories, and the inability to experience moments of joy. For many individuals, these symptoms are the most notable and difficult to get through while grieving. Emotional symptoms of grief include:

  • Bitterness
  • Detachment
  • Feelings of emptiness
  • Inability to show and/or experience joy
  • Increased irritability
  • Intense emotions
  • Emotional numbness
  • Periods of sadness
  • Profound sadness
  • Preoccupation with loss

Physical Symptoms of Grief

Grief does more than just disrupt your emotional well-being. Physical symptoms can pop up as well alongside emotional pain. Some of the most common physical symptoms of grief include headaches and fatigue, but many other symptoms can arise as well, such as:

  • Changes in weight
  • Chest pain
  • Digestive problems
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Inability to sleep or sleeping too much
  • Sore muscles

person in grief

The 5 Stages of Grief

Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross theorized that grief involves 5 stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

  • Denial: Denial involves minimizing the overwhelming feelings of loss you may feel. It involves disbelief of the loss so that you can understand what is happening and survive the situation. The denial phase often involves memories where you are reflecting on past experiences with the person you have lost.
  • Anger: Adjusting to the loss of a loved one often results in extreme anger. Anger is often an outlet to get your emotions out. It allows you to express your emotions with less rejection or judgment.
  • Bargaining: Extreme feelings of loss make most individuals willing to do anything to get rid of the pain. There are many ways that the bargaining phase plays out, but many involve a variety of promises, many of them addressed to a divinity. During this phase, feelings of helplessness often come to the forefront as you are protesting to a higher power.
  • Depression: Eventually, processing grief takes a dark turn and results in depression. This often happens when denial, anger, and bargaining are not working.
  • Acceptance: Acceptance does not involve the absence of pain. Instead, acceptance is when you do not resist reality and recognize that life has changed. Intense feelings may still be there, but you are not trying to alter your reality.

It’s important to note that these different stages don’t always happen linearly. You might feel denial one day and bargaining the next, and you might go through a series of weeks before acceptance.

The 5 Stages of Grief

Coping with Grief and Loss

Experiencing grief and loss is one of the most difficult challenges in life, and it never gets easier. It’s okay to feel sad and lost, this is normal. Although you cannot make feelings of loss go away, there are healthy ways to cope with grief. It’s important to learn healthy coping mechanisms so that you can continue living a healthy life, despite the loss.

Don’t let the pain of loss lead to isolation. Isolation is a common occurrence when experiencing grief. It’s imperative to fight the urge to isolate oneself and find ways to cope with grief and loss with the help of your friends, family members, and health care professionals.

Maintain relationships with friends and family members. Keep involving your friends and family members who are supportive of you in your life. Although it might feel awkward or embarrassing to confide in them, they will be there for you through thick and thin. Rely on their acceptance and ask for help when needed.

Lean on your faith. If you have faith, embrace the comfort that comes from your higher power. Whether you prefer meditating or going to church, faith can help you ground yourself during the grieving process.

Find comfort in routines. Create a healthy and normal routine. Incorporating healthy habits in your usual activities can help create a reliable and stable sense of reality. Incorporate exercise and healthy food into your daily routine. This stability can help you cope with your grief without disrupting your future life too much.

pain

Contact counseling professionals. If you feel your grief is overwhelming, contact a therapist or grief counselor. A mental health professional and grief counseling can help you navigate your feelings when you find it difficult to control them on your own. This can include individual counseling, family counseling, and group counseling.

If you need a grief counselor to help you through this difficult time and get back to daily life, get in touch. Our grief counseling is addressed to individuals experiencing emotional and psychological trauma from loss and grief.

Additionally for grief group counseling we highly recommend Our House Grief Support Center.

Prefer to watch? Below is the full interview with special guest Caitlin Harrison that served as the original inspiration for this article.

Religion has always played an important role in many communities. Some people find comfort and peace in religion, while others cling to the hope it provides when tragedy occurs. Religion was meant to bring people together, provide a safe space for like-minded individuals that have a shared belief system, and create rituals to encourage togetherness, the feeling of belonging, and unity.

However, things take a turn for the worse when religion becomes indoctrination. This is when religion forgoes its original purpose of providing love and hope and becomes a reason for psychological and physical abuse. When members of a congregation experience a loss of sense of autonomy, shame associated with their emotions, and a constant fear of punishment from a religious leader, parent, guardian, or even the divine itself, religion turns into a source of trauma and mental disorders.

sad guy

What are the causes of religious trauma?

Religious trauma is the result of different experiences that occur in a religious community, within a church, or spiritual community that exposes the members to indoctrination messages, coercion, humiliation, embarrassment, and abuse. Here are some of the instances that may lead to religious trauma:

  • Exposure to religious leaders who insist on being the only source of authority in the life of congregants and base their preaching on cultivating fear and shame
  • A religious institution that requires financial participation or sacrifice for members to access blessings or eternal life from a god or deity
  • Individuals in positions of power who force members to participate in religious ceremonies or use fear of hell or punishment to earn their abnegation
  • Suppression of normal child development through limited access to information and the teaching of dysfunctional beliefs
  • Stifling independent thinking and creating self-doubt, to diminish the agency of members
  • Victimization through physical and/or sexual abuse, as well as constant exposure to unhealthy sexual views and applying punishment to achieve discipline, obedience, and purity of soul

sad

What are the symptoms of religious trauma?

Religious trauma manifests in different forms, and just like with any other type of trauma, it needs to be acknowledged before it can be treated. The support of therapists with knowledge in the field of trauma-informed care is essential for the well-being and health of religious trauma survivors who often find themselves experiencing symptoms like:

Cognitive deficiencies – confusion, perfectionism, lack of self-confidence and self-respect, and difficulty with decision-making skills.

Emotional challenges – anger, difficulty with pleasure, overwhelming feelings of guilt and shame, lethargy, anxiety disorders, and depression.

Social obstacles – difficulty forming healthy relationships, sexual difficulty, loss of social network, sense of isolation, and impeded social development.

PTSD symptoms – nightmares, panic attacks, fear, flashbacks, dissociation, etc.

depression

What is religious trauma syndrome?

Religious trauma syndrome (RTS) is a consequence of religious trauma. While it is not in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, it’s a term that has been gaining traction. RTS manifests in most people who have suffered religious abuse or have been exposed to dysfunctional beliefs due to their religious affiliation.

People struggling with RTS are usually individuals who have left a dogmatic religion or have abandoned a belief system that led to their indoctrination. This major step marks the beginning of their new life outside a controlling environment or religious figure and opens the door to freedom, but also to symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Finding themselves in a world without an “official” leader and guidance, where they need to rely on their own independent thinking, people with RTS are often exposed to a roller-coaster of emotions where the beatitude and excitement of being free alternate with an overwhelming state of fear, grief, rage, panic attacks, and depression.

trauma syndrome

The effects of religious trauma

Religious trauma can emotionally paralyze an individual and significantly impact their mental health. Authoritarian religions equip individuals with a set of negative beliefs that have no practical use in the real world. Furthermore, religious beliefs founded on emotional and physical abuse may continue to impact lives for a long time after the individuals have found the strength to release themselves from the yoke of damaging spiritual beliefs and traumatic religious experiences.

The effects of religious trauma may make their presence felt in different aspects of life. From the feeling that they don’t belong in the real world and the belief they are detached from everything that happens culturally around them to the constant guilt, shame, and fear that rule supreme. People who have experienced religious trauma may face an avalanche of emotions.

While people suffering from RTS may feel relieved and hopeful to be free of the religious dogma, they may continue to feel ostracized by the community they left behind and experience a constant fear of being punished by the superior being they used to worship.

The impact of religious trauma on LGBTQ individuals

The contradictory emotions brought on by religious trauma are often experienced by members of the LGBTQ community. The members of this community who have been raised or exposed to toxic religious beliefs may find themselves stuck in shame, rejection, and fear of divine damnation. Some folks may even be forced into conversion therapy which can cause long damaging effects. It has been proven that this unethical treatment is ineffective and harmful. Toxic indoctrination can be overcome with the help of mental health professionals, but it requires work and the belief that while the road ahead is long, you have the tools you need to conquer all obstacles.

LGBTQ

Some LGTBQ people find a way to overcome fear and shame by rejecting organized religion and learning to accept and love themselves exactly as they are. Others find different faith communities that cherish their individuality and refrain from judging or using fear and shame as weapons. Whether they choose to lose their faith or embrace healthy spiritual beliefs, the damage of religious trauma will continue to linger if they do not take the time to process it accordingly.

If you need help processing the nightmares, fear, and guilt associated with the negative conditioning left behind from religious trauma, working together with your therapist can be immensely helpful. It will give you access to the necessary tools to learn to internalize love, detach yourself from dogma, overcome mental illness, and find a new path towards emotional, mental, and spiritual balance.

Resources for Folx Wanting Support and Community

Books on Religious Trauma written by White authors:

Books on Religious Trauma written by BIPOC authors:

Books on Religious Trauma written by Queer authors:

Books on Religious Trauma outside of Christianity:

Books on Religious Trauma and Sexual Healing:

Books on Religious Trauma and pursuing non-religion afterwards:

Podcasts:

  • Latter-Day Lesbian: an ex-Mormon gay woman who tackles religious trauma and later-in-life LGBTQ issues with her friend.
  • This Little Light of Mine is an LGBTQ+ tale of terror (growing up as a closeted Gay Christian in the Evangelical church) that led to trauma (cPTSD, religious trauma, spiritual abuse, sexual abuse, addiction) to what I intend to become triumph.
  • Marie, Myself, & I: Marie LePage D’Elephant talks about neurodivergence, ethical non-monogamy, sexuality, religious trauma, secular spirituality, and all things deconstructive.
  • Heal Religious Trauma: Religious Trauma Syndrome is real! And with it comes symptoms of PTSD and CPTSD, ranging anywhere from mild to severe. Join Advanced Life Coach, NLP Practitioner and Hypnotherapist Stevie Noah (a religious trauma survivor) as she navigates the challenges and helps other survivors heal and reinvent their lives!
  • Queer After Religion: The QAR Podcast seeks to celebrate the incredible stories of queer people who have left authoritarian religion and are finding a new way. Ex-religious and former fundamentalist host, Derek Matthew Miller, offers up intimate questions and topics for his guests as they discuss the intersection of religion and queerness, life lessons, and how to find peace, love, and progress through it all.
  • Dirty Rotten Church Kids: Millennial dads figuring out life, art and culture on the other side of the evangelical bubble

Depression is a serious mental health condition that may affect anyone at some point in their life. It doesn’t discriminate and has no favorites. It can affect young and old people, and no one is really immune to its symptoms. However, depression can be treated, and friends and family can make a difference for those suffering from this disorder. But only if they educate themselves and understand the toll depression can have on the mental health of their loved ones.

How do you know if a friend is suffering from depression?

Depression can impact a person’s everyday life and cause sadness, pain, and tremendous suffering. While associated with numerous symptoms, at times, it may feel like an invisible cloud looming over a person without them even being aware of its presence. There are different types of depression and different symptoms that betray its presence in the life of someone you love. A person suffering from this condition may exhibit common warning signs like:

Loss of interest in everyday tasks

They have lost interest in their work, hobbies, or any activities that used to bring them joy.

Social isolation

They avoid spending time with friends or family and have withdrawn from social activities.

Constant feelings of sadness and hopelessness

They are feeling sad all the time and seem to have lost their hope or become critical or irritable and adopt a pessimistic attitude regarding life.

woman sad

Changes in appetite

They eat more or less than usual, and you can notice a significant change in their weight.

Changes in their sleeping pattern

They either sleep more or less than usual and seem to always be disoriented, indecisive, and not really present anymore.

Increased alcohol consumption or substance abuse

They start to drink or rely on sleeping pills or painkillers to numb their pain.

While some people struggling with depression may exhibit symptoms like the ones mentioned above, others may simply feel unhappy or sad without any reason in particular. Children suffering from depression rarely manifest their depression through sadness and are more likely to exhibit it through irritability.

What you need to understand about depression

Depression is a serious mental health condition and not just a rough patch someone is going through. It will not eventually pass on its own. The person going through this experience has no control over their state of mind and mood, and their emotional health is severely affected by this disorder. They find it hard to fight it on their own and, most of the time, especially when dealing with clinical depression, they need therapy to understand what they are going through. It is not enough to make them aware of their condition for them to start the healing process. Depression often overcomes the force of will.

Depression

Persons dealing with depression cannot be held accountable for everything hurtful they might say. They are struggling with an avalanche of emotions and find it very hard to find anything positive around them. This can only lead to increased irritability and frustration, often materialized as criticism and anger. Try to understand where they are coming from and don’t hold this against them. They still love you and this is not about you. Don’t take it personally.

The same goes for persons suffering from depression who have no interest in going to work, doing their chores, or engaging in any social activities. You shouldn’t label them as lazy, and you should try to understand they can barely find the energy to get out of bed. Depression is often accompanied by feelings of extreme tiredness and lack of motivation.

What you shouldn’t do if you want to help a friend with depression?

Ignoring a friend with depression is never the way to go, nor is helping them hide their issue. This can only drag them deeper into an unhealthy pattern and “legitimize” their behavior stripping them of any intention to ask for help or discuss their problems with a therapist. The person suffering from this condition needs to get treatment as soon as possible to prevent their mental health concerns from getting worse and prolonging their dark times and even the risk of suicide.

A friend with depression is not a broken person in need of fixing. You do not need to come with a solution to their problems nor take upon yourself the burden of their depression. You cannot be responsible for a person’s happiness, thus you cannot consider yourself responsible for their depression either. What you can do is be there for them when they need support and love them. Finding the path to recovery from depression is a personal journey that only the person battling the condition can find and walk on.

girl crying

What can you do if you want to help a friend with depression?

If you think your friend is suffering from depression, you can start by paying attention to common signs that may indicate this condition. Observe their behavior and see if you can notice any symptoms of depression. Keep an eye on their mood changes and notice if they complain of unexplained pains and aches, like back pains or headaches.

Be there for them when they ask for help but avoid telling them depression is not a real problem or that it is natural to feel sad at times and everyone is going through tough times. Avoid giving them advice or serving them cliches about how they should focus on the positive or that it is all in their head. This will only make them withdraw even more and avoid your presence.

Be compassionate and show you care about them and that their friendship is important. Depression is never someone’s fault and can’t be fixed overnight. Listen to everything the person has to tell you, and don’t make any judgments. Sometimes, listening to someone is enough to make them feel better and lighter.

worry

Offer to help them with daily tasks and create a routine for them to feel more in control and at ease around you. Encourage them to respect their treatment, take their medication, and participate in meetings organized by support groups. Explain they are not alone in this journey and that you are going to be there for them every step of the way. Discuss the beneficial effects of eating healthier and spending time outdoors.

People with severe depression may contemplate suicide. You need to understand the suicide risk and be aware of the fact that it is possible for your friend to think about taking their own life. If you believe this to be true, act immediately and talk to them about your concern. Ask for help from a mental health professional and let their family and close friends know about the risk. Create a safe environment around them and make sure they don’t have medications or weapons at hand. If the risk for suicide is high, call 911 and do not leave the person on their own.

Often the holiday season is seen as a wonderful time of the year, however that doesn’t have the same joyous impact on everyone. People struggling with mental health issues and unaccepting families may find the holiday season quite difficult to manage and at times, triggering. The media portrays the holidays as a magical season where families get together around the tree, sing carols, and share laughter. The pressure to rise to the expectations of the season combined with the stress of family gatherings may bring mental health struggles to the surface.

Additionally, people who spend the holidays alone may experience increased feelings of loneliness and sadness when faced with society’s “demand” to have a joyous time. While many enjoy making holiday plans, 64% of people living with mental health conditions report that the holiday season makes their mental conditions worse.

Spending time with family can turn into a very stressful time and become a source of anxiety, especially for members of the LGBTQ community. Many LGTBQ and non-binary individuals are exposed to homophobic and transphobic sentiments and rejection by family members throughout the year and may be exacerbated during family reunions. Family time may become a reminder of feeling “othered” by your family. Feeling “othered” by family can increase feelings of loneliness and depression. And even if members of the LGBTQ community choose not to return home for the holidays, the expectation of spending the holidays with family in a cheerful setting may loom over them which can increase feelings of anxiety and depression.

loneliness

Even people who have no history of mental health challenges may at times experience anxiety, frustration, sadness, fatigue, and loneliness around holiday time, particularly when associated with the COVID-19 crisis. Whether you are living with a mental health challenge or not, the holiday season can bring an immense amount of stress. Here are some helpful tips on how to manage through the holiday season:

Acknowledge your feelings

Every holiday season has a different emotional charge. Take a step back and analyze your emotions. Listen to your mind and soul and see what they need to feel better. Is the holiday spirit reservoir empty? That is fine. Accept that this year you lack the enthusiasm and capacity to get all caught up in the traditional cheeriness. Happiness can’t be forced! Embrace your emotions and remember that you are not alone in feeling this way.

Bring a Reminder with you

If you are at a family event that may bring added stress, bring something with you. This could be a picture of a loved one, an essential oil to ground you when overwhelmed, a piece of paper with a mantra on it, a funny animal video online, etc. Step away at times and look at these reminders.

woman in therapy

Communicate with your partner ahead of time

If you are bringing someone with you to a holiday event create a plan ahead of time regarding the type of support you may need. It’s important to strategize in order for you to feel support, connection, and security. Remember that you are on the same team as your significant other. If you feel you need to leave an event early or buy one less gift it’s important for your partner to be supportive and attuned to your needs.

Be realistic about shopping and hosting

Ask others to help with the burdens of holiday shopping, decorating the house, and cooking meals. Spend only the money you can afford to avoid the stress of having to think about ways to save money next year to cover the debt. Don’t sacrifice your mental health for the sake of appearances. Admit if you can’t afford to buy presents this year. No one will judge you. And even if they would, your mental health is more important than anyone’s opinion.

woman sitting drinking coffee

Be honest with yourself and connect with a safe community

If possible, try to avoid forced celebrations that you do not feel comfortable attending. Be gentle and kind to yourself, and don’t force unrealistic expectations. Connect with your loved ones, your support group, a therapist, or simply start a conversation with some of your friends. A simple walk with a friend can plant the seed of hope and joy you can experience in the years to come.

Avoid alcohol consumption

Alcohol may make you feel better in the moment, but it is known to be a depressant. Try to not rely on alcohol or drugs to make it through.. Both may only make your mental health condition worse. Numbing your feelings is not the only way to work through the holiday blues and manage your mental health needs. Alcohol can worsen your anxiety and depression.

Yoga

Prioritize self-care

Include healthy habits in your schedule, and do not sacrifice them to make time for others. Your physical health is very important. Exercise, eat healthy meals, and try to relax as much as possible. If you need a break from all the merriness, take a break. Set healthy boundaries and take care of yourself. You can go out for a walk, watch a movie, practice deep breathing, or meditate. Whatever takes you back to yourself and helps you soothe your feelings of anxiety or stress! Remember that winter also comes with less sunlight and this may have an impact on your mood. Try to include outdoor exercise in your routine to get your share of natural light.

Be assertive (if safe to do so)

No one feels comfortable during tension created by conflicts and sometimes we avoid confrontations but sometimes, especially for LGBTQ and non-binary individuals, assertiveness may be necessary. CAUTION- assertiveness is only healthy to utilize if there are no safety concerns, please assess for any safety concerns first. If there are no safety concerns, here some helpful ways to be assertive. Speak up for yourself if you feel hurt by certain comments or you believe to be the victim of microaggressions, such as snubs or insults, regardless of whether they are intentional or unintentional. You do not need to change for anyone, and this should be your mantra. Set gentle yet firm boundaries to stop any potential toxicity. Repeat to yourself whenever necessary that you have the right to be who you are and you deserve everyone’s respect.

 

As current generations open the dialogue about mental health issues, the word trauma keeps popping up in conversations. We keep hearing it so often that, I’m concerned at some point, most people will get used to it and trivialize it. We should never be dismissive of trauma. Unfortunately, 70 percent of U.S. adults have experienced trauma, of which, 20 percent developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). With this prevalence of trauma, it has become for many, an unseen life companion casting a shadow over their wellbeing.

Undiagnosed and untreated trauma ravages people’s mental health despite an appearance of high functionality and an “everything is fine” facade. They may be a seemingly innocuous occurrence away from having all the emotions associated with past traumatic experiences resurface. Without any warning and usually without explanations.

What is trauma and how do you identify it?

Psychological trauma is an emotional response to a stressful event or events that interfere with one’s sense of security and safety. Trauma is the consequence of terrible events like sexual assault and other forms of abuse, accidents, natural disasters, or wars. It can cause a variety of emotional symptoms like:

  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Confusion
  • Shame
  • Guilt
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Nightmares
  • Lack of trust
  • Inability to focus

But it can also trigger physical symptoms, such as:

  • Headaches
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Digestive issues
  • Body aches
  • Nausea

Woman crying

It is important to remember that not everyone who experiences traumatic events develops trauma. Nevertheless, different types of trauma can manifest in a variety of ways:

Acute trauma – the result of a single distressing or potentially harmful event that creates a long-term impression and manifests itself through one or several trauma-specific symptoms.

Chronic trauma – the result of repeated or prolonged exposure to toxic stress and highly stressful events, such as bullying, domestic violence, and childhood abuse. Untreated acute trauma may develop into chronic trauma.

Complex trauma – the result of constant exposure to multiple traumatic events, usually negative experiences within interpersonal relationships, such as neglect, domestic violence, childhood abuse.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women and one in 71 men will experience rape at some point in their lives, and 12% of these women and 30% of these men were younger than ten years old when the aggression happened. The impact of trauma in children can last for a lifetime. It can lead to anxiety, depression, and addictions, and it can prevent people from accessing proper healthcare services. That is why the need for trauma-informed care is imperative and essential for patient wellbeing.

What is a trauma-informed care approach?

Trauma-informed care acknowledges that the patient may have suffered trauma in the past and creates a safe environment when providing the necessary healthcare services. Healthcare providers need to build trauma awareness and create a deep understanding of trauma at each organizational level, including employees that don’t have a medical role but still interact with patients. The goal of trauma-informed care is to allow the medical establishment to provide optimal treatment strategies while preventing any possible re-traumatization that may stop patients from seeking care in the future.

When treating a client in a trauma-informed environment, healthcare professionals focus on understanding what happened to the patient instead of what is wrong with them. The therapist, nurse, or doctor doesn’t necessarily ask the patient to talk about the traumatic events they have experienced or adverse childhood experiences, but when in the presence of symptoms of trauma, they should assume the patient may have a history of trauma and act accordingly. Healthcare professionals need to create an environment that exudes emotional safety and inspires trust.

sad face

Trauma-informed systems may improve patient engagement and treatment adherence to encourage better health outcomes. When treating patients in trauma-informed organizations, the medical care team considers the complete picture of a patient’s life and provides a treatment process that centers around comprehensive healing.

What are the principles of trauma-informed care?

Trauma-informed care demands broad organizational culture change. It needs to be adopted at clinical and organizational levels and offer staff access to knowledge about trauma and the effects of trauma. Everyone from the front desk workers to the medical staff should familiarize themselves with the principles of trauma and work together to provide a safe environment for patients. The foundation of trauma-informed care has six principles:

Safety

Patients should feel physical, emotional, and psychological safety when they are in the care of medical professionals. Both the interior and exterior of the medical organizations should inspire safety (e.g., enough space for patients to avoid sitting too close to strangers, well-lit parking lot, security guards close by to offer protection, nurses open to interact and address concerns).

Trustworthiness and transparency

Nurses should create a transparent environment and build a relationship based on trust. Decisions and the reasons behind them should be discussed and made openly and the care process should be explained in detail to patients.

Peer support

The medical staff must learn and understand various traumatic conditions and the effects of trauma. They need to acknowledge that their patients may have suffered exposure to trauma that prevents them from being open about their health issues and understand their needs. Medical professionals who have experience with certain types of trauma may be able to establish a connection with patients with similar trauma and approach the patient as a “peer”.

Collaboration

Patients should be a part of the conversation when it comes to their healthcare. Therapists, nurses, doctors, and medical organizations should work together with the patients to deliver the best treatment plans. In an environment of trauma-informed care based on mutuality, patients get to participate in healthcare decisions and feel a sense of security that enables them to trust the treatment and follow it through in their daily life.

Empowerment

An organization that delivers healthcare services based on trauma-informed principles gives patients a voice – a voice to tell their stories and have a say in healthcare decisions that concern them.

Cultural Issues

For trauma-informed care to be efficient, the medical professionals and staff members need to identify and eliminate any potential cultural, racial, or gender issues. Biases and stereotypes based on race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, etc. should be recognized and addressed to create a more comfortable environment for patients who have had traumatic experiences. The patient’s cultural needs should be accommodated so that they feel seen, heard, and understood.

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Trauma-informed care encourages getting proper healthcare and achieving healing through compassion and open-mindedness. Trauma-informed organizations treat all patients as individuals with a past and present and personalize their care approach to echo their unique needs encouraging them to return to benefit from proper healthcare.

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.

 

girl experiencing emotional trauma

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:

Physical Symptoms

  • Fatigue or exhaustion
  • Easily or frequently startled
  • Insomnia
  • Excessive alertness, always looking for threats, low sense of safety
  • Racing Heartbeat (Tachycardia)
  • Constantly agitated or on edge

Psychological Symptoms

  • Confusion, difficulty concentrating, loss of memory
  • Disorientation
  • 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
  • Depression
  • Social Withdrawal
  • Alcoholism
  • Compulsive behavioral patterns
  • Hostility
  • 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.

 

Girl by the ocean

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.

Exercise

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.

Meditate

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.