Extremely stressful events that shatter your sense of security, leaving you helpless in a dangerous world, cause emotional and psychological trauma. You may experience lingering emotions, memories, and anxiety as a result of psychological trauma. It can also make you feel numb, disconnected, and incapable of trusting others.
Traumatic experiences typically include a threat to one’s life or safety, but any circumstance that leaves you feeling overwhelmed and lonely, even if no physical damage is involved, can end in trauma. The subjective emotional experience you have of an event determines whether or not it is traumatic. The more terrified and powerless you feel, the more likely it is that you will be traumatized.
- Accidents, injuries, or violent attacks occur only once, especially if they are unexpected or occurred when you were a child.
- Ongoing, relentless stress, such as living in a crime-ridden neighborhood, battling a life-threatening illness, or witnessing traumatic events on a regular basis, such as bullying, domestic violence, or childhood neglect.
- Surgery (particularly within the first three years of life), the untimely death of a close relative, the end of a meaningful relationship, or a humiliating or severely disappointing experience, particularly if someone was purposely unkind, are all prevalent factors that are sometimes neglected.
Coping with the trauma of a natural or man-made disaster can be difficult, even if you were not directly involved in the event. In reality, while it’s exceedingly improbable that any of us will ever be direct victims of a terrorist attack, aircraft accident, or mass shooting, for example, we’re all confronted with awful images of those who have been on social media and news channels on a regular basis. Viewing these images repeatedly can overload your nervous system and cause traumatic stress.
Whatever the cause of your trauma, and whether it occurred years ago or just yesterday, you can make healing changes and move forward with your life.
Childhood Trauma and The Risk of Possible Trauma
While traumatic events can occur at any age, you are more likely to be traumatized if you are already stressed, have recently suffered a string of losses, or have previously been traumatized—especially if the earlier trauma occurred while you were a child. Childhood trauma can be caused by anything that disrupts a child’s sense of safety, including:
- An unstable or dangerous environment.
- Parental estrangement.
- Serious illness.
- Intrusive medical procedures.
- Sexual, physical, or verbal abuse.
- Domestic abuse.
Trauma in childhood can have serious and long-lasting consequences. When childhood trauma is not resolved, the child experiences fear and helplessness as an adult, laying the groundwork for future trauma. Even if your trauma occurred many years ago, there are steps you can take to overcome the pain, regain your sense of emotional balance, and learn to trust and connect with others again.
Psychological trauma symptoms
We all react differently to trauma, exhibiting a wide range of physical and emotional symptoms. There is no “correct” or “incorrect” way to think, feel, or respond, so don’t pass judgment on your own or others’ reactions. Your reactions are NORMAL in response to ABNORMAL events.
Completing a trauma questionnaire might help you determine whether you need professional treatment.
Symptoms of emotional and psychological:
- Surprise, denial, or disbelief.
- Confusion, inability to concentrate.
- Anger, irritability, mood swings
- Fear and anxiety.
- Shame, guilt, and self-blame.
- Withdrawing from other people.
- Feeling depressed or hopeless.
- Feeling detached or numb.
- Nightmares or insomnia.
- Being easily startled.
- Concentration problems.
- Racing heartbeat.
- Edginess and agitation.
- Pains and aches.
- Muscle tension.
Recovering from trauma
Trauma symptoms often last a few days to a few months and lessen gradually as the unpleasant incident is processed. Even when you’re feeling better, painful recollections or emotions may bother you from time to time, particularly in response to triggers such as the anniversary of the occurrence or something that reminds you of the trauma.
If your psychological trauma symptoms do not improve—or worsen—and you are unable to move on from the event for an extended period of time, you may be suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). While emotional trauma is a normal reaction to a traumatic event, it progresses to PTSD when your nervous system becomes “stuck” and you remain in psychological shock, unable to make sense of what happened or work through your emotions.
Whether or not a traumatic event results in death, you must deal with the loss of your sense of safety, at least temporarily. Grief is the natural reaction to this loss. You, like those who have lost a loved one, must grieve. The following suggestions can help you cope with your grief, heal from the trauma, and move on with your life.
Tip 1: First and foremost, get moving.
Trauma disrupts your body’s natural equilibrium, causing you to become hyperaroused and fearful. Exercise and movement can help repair your nervous system as well as burn off adrenaline and release endorphins.
- On most days, try to exercise for 30 minutes or more. Three 10-minute bursts of exercise per day are also sufficient.
- Walking, running, swimming, basketball, or even dancing are all examples of rhythmic exercises that engage both your arms and legs.
- Incorporate a mindfulness component. Instead of focusing on your thoughts or distracting yourself while exercising, concentrate on your body and how it feels as you move. Examine how your feet feel on the ground, your breathing pattern, or the feel of the wind on your skin. Rock climbing, boxing, weight training, or martial arts can help with this—after all, you need to focus on your body movements during these activities to avoid injury.
Tip 2: Don’t isolate
You may want to isolate yourself after a traumatic event, but this only makes matters worse. Face-to-face contact with others will help you heal, so try to keep your relationships and avoid spending too much time alone.
- You are not required to discuss the trauma. Connecting with others does not have to include discussing the trauma. In fact, for some people, this can make matters worse. Feeling engaged and accepted by others provides comfort.
- Ask for support. While you are not required to discuss the trauma, it is critical that you have someone with whom you can share your feelings face to face, someone who will listen attentively without judging you. Consult a dependable family member, friend, counselor, or clergyman.
- Social activities.Even if you don’t feel like it, engage in social activities. Participate in “normal” activities with other people that have nothing to do with the traumatic experience.
- Reconnect with old friends. Make an effort to reconnect with people who were once important to you if you’ve drifted away from them.
- Join a trauma survivor support group. Connecting with others who are dealing with similar issues can help you feel less isolated, and hearing how others cope can inspire you in your own recovery.
- Volunteer. Volunteering is an excellent way to combat the helplessness that often comes with trauma. Helping others can help you remind yourself of your strengths and reclaim your sense of power.
- Make new friends. It’s critical to reach out and make new friends if you live alone or far away from family and friends. Take a class or join a club to meet people who share your interests, join an alumni association, or reach out to neighbors or coworkers.
If communicating with others is difficult
Many trauma survivors claim to feel disconnected, withdrawn, and unable to connect with others. If this describes you, here are some steps you can take before your next social gathering:
- Move or exercise. Jump around, swing your arms and legs, or simply flail around. Your mind will be clearer, and it will be easier to connect.
- Vocal toning. As strange as it may sound, vocal toning is an excellent way to increase social engagement. Sit up straight and make a simple “mmmm” sound. Adjust the pitch and volume until you feel a pleasant vibration in your face.
Tip 3: Control your nervous system.
It’s important to know that you can change your arousal system and calm yourself no matter how agitated, anxious, or out of control you feel. It will not only alleviate the anxiety associated with trauma, but it will also provide a greater sense of control.
- Mindful breathing. If you’re feeling disoriented, confused, or upset, practicing mindful breathing can help you calm down quickly. Simply take 60 deep breaths, focusing on each ‘out-breath.
- Sensory input. Does a particular sight, smell, or taste instantly make you feel calm? Perhaps petting an animal or listening to music can quickly calm you down? Everyone reacts differently to sensory input, so try out different quick stress relief techniques to see what works best for you.
- Staying grounded. Sit on a chair to feel more present and grounded. Feel the ground beneath your feet and your back against the chair. Look around you and select six objects that contain red or blue. Take note of how your breathing becomes deeper and more relaxed.
- Let yourself experience what you need to experience when you need to experience it.
Recognize and accept your feelings about the trauma as they arise.
Tip 4: Maintain your health.
It’s true: having a healthy body can help you cope with the stress of trauma.
- Get enough sleep. Worry or fear may disrupt your sleep patterns after a traumatic experience. A lack of quality sleep, on the other hand, can exacerbate trauma symptoms and make it difficult to maintain emotional balance. Keep striving for 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night, and try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
- Stay away from alcohol and drugs. Their use may aggravate your trauma symptoms and increase feelings of depression, anxiety, and isolation.
- Consume a well-balanced diet. Small, well-balanced meals throughout the day will help you maintain your energy and reduce mood swings. To improve your mood, avoid sugary and fried foods and consume plenty of omega-3 fats, such as salmon, walnuts, soybeans, and flaxseeds.
- Reduce your stress. Try meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises to help you relax. Make time for activities that make you happy, such as your favorite hobbies.
Helping A Loved One in Dealing With Trauma
When a loved one has experienced trauma, your assistance can be critical to their recovery.
- Be understanding and patient. It takes time to recover from trauma. Be patient with the recovery process and remember that everyone’s reaction to trauma is unique. Don’t compare your loved one’s reaction to your own or anyone else’s.
- Provide practical assistance to your loved one in resuming a normal routine. This could include assisting with grocery shopping or housework or simply being available to talk or listen.
- Don’t force your loved one to talk, but be available if they want to. Some trauma survivors find it difficult to discuss their experiences. Don’t press your loved one to open up, but let them know you’re available to listen if they want to talk or just hang out if they don’t.
- Assist your loved one in socializing and relaxing. Encourage them to engage in physical activity, make new friends, and pursue hobbies and other enjoyable activities. Join a fitness class or make a regular lunch date with friends.
- Don’t take the trauma symptoms personally. Your loved one could become agitated, withdrawn, or emotionally distant. Keep in mind that this is a result of the trauma and has nothing to do with you or your relationship.
It is critical to communicate openly with a child to aid in his or her recovery from trauma. Inform them that it is normal to be scared or upset. Your child may look to you for cues on how to respond to trauma, so show them that you are dealing with your symptoms positively.