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What is Trauma?
People experience a range of psychological reactions to traumatic experiences. Traumatic experiences can include events like the death of a family member, physical injury, natural disaster, or sexual abuse.
Symptoms Related to Trauma
Responses to trauma and the severity of these reactions vary significantly depending on the circumstances of the traumatic event and the background and level of emotional and psychological resources and functioning of the individual experiencing the trauma. Although everyone reacts to trauma in different ways, common adverse effects of trauma include:
- Anger, sadness, and mood swings: Individuals who have experienced a traumatic event often find themselves struggling with intense and unpredictable negative emotional responses, which may affect an individual’s ability to function in daily life.
- Intense anxiety and trouble relaxing: Hypervigilance, in which an individual experiences toxic stress, persistent helplessness, and fear of potential dangers, is common after a traumatic experience.
- Flashbacks or nightmares: After a traumatic experience, individuals may relive the memory through flashbacks or nightmares.
- Guilt or shame: Some trauma survivors believe that it was somehow their fault or that they should have responded to it differently.
- Physical trauma symptoms: Physical symptoms of trauma include headaches, digestive issues, or changes in sleeping and eating patterns.
- Depersonalization or Derealization: Trauma victims may experience dissociation, seclusion, emotional detachment, or an inability to connect with others.
Types of Traumatic Responses
According to the American Psychological Association, approximately 50% of individuals will experience at least one traumatizing event during their lives. Responses to trauma vary depending on the individual, and not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will develop symptoms of a psychiatric disorder as a result. Typical reactions to psychological trauma include:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): Trauma survivors suffering from PTSD experience some of all of the symptoms of PTSD for more than one month after the traumatic event. In some cases, PTSD may have a delayed onset, in which the signs of PTSD arise more than six months after the traumatic event. Traumatic stress disorder with dissociation, a subtype of PTSD, has a separate clinical diagnosis.
- Acute stress disorder: Acute stress disorder is linked to the same traumatic experiences and symptoms as PTSD. However, acute stress disorder has a duration of one month or less. If acute stress disorder has long-term effects lasting longer than one month, it becomes PTSD.
- Resilience: More often than not, those who experience trauma do not develop long-term diagnoses as a result. Many survivors often exhibit resilience. Resilience in the face of trauma includes developing stronger relationships with friends and family and finding a renewed sense of purpose in life.
Researchers examining trauma have also identified specific classes of trauma. These include:
- Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs): ACEs are potentially traumatic events that occur during childhood, such as physical abuse or verbal abuse, neglect, or abandonment. ACEs also include aspects of a child’s environment that can undermine their safety and stability, such as growing up in a household with addiction, substance use, or mental health problems. About 61% of adults across 25 states in the United States have reported experiencing at least one type of childhood trauma. In adulthood, ACEs are linked to mental disorders, substance use disorders, and chronic health problems, according to the Adverse Childhood Experience study.
- Collective trauma: Collective traumas are experienced by an entire group, community, or nation, and the impact of trauma affects everyone differently. Examples of collective trauma include natural disasters, wars, mass shootings, and global pandemics.
What should you do if you’re suffering from symptoms related to trauma?
If you’re suffering from mental health challenges related to trauma, a multitude of treatment options are available. The treatment of people who experienced trauma includes:
- Therapy: Working with a clinician, such as a psychologist, can help you understand your psychological and emotional responses to the traumatic event. Seeking professional help can help you learn proven techniques to improve your symptoms and your mood. Common therapy techniques involve behavior therapy, exposure therapy, interpersonal process therapy, and group therapy.
- Mindfulness: Some studies have suggested that meditation and mindfulness can improve mental health among trauma survivors. Because stillness and contemplation may be triggering after a traumatizing experience, consider beginning with shorter practices or seeking professional help from an experienced practitioner.
- Hotlines: If you need immediate support or if you’re having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Hotline at 1-800-622-4357.
What should you look for in a therapist?
If you’ve experienced a traumatizing event, it’s helpful to find a mental health professional experienced in treating individuals with traumatic stress disorder.
If you’re seeking treatment for traumatic stress, consider reaching out to a psychologist, counselor, or social worker through WithTherapy. WithTherapy connects each patient to a personalized shortlist of mental health professionals and uses science and research to match personal preferences.
Our aim is to connect you with a therapist you feel comfortable with, regardless of your preferences and requirements. One of the qualified therapists on the WithTherapy platform will help you understand your stressors and triggers and learn strategies to manage the symptoms of trauma.