Trauma is a word that we often hear, but do we truly understand what it means? Trauma is a distressing event that overwhelms our ability to cope and leaves us feeling helpless, frightened, and vulnerable. Trauma can be caused by various experiences, including natural disasters, accidents, abuse, violence, and sudden loss. In this article, we will explore what trauma is, the different types of trauma, and how it impacts our everyday lives.
What is trauma and its different types?
Trauma can be defined as a psychological and emotional response to an event or experience that is deeply distressing or disturbing. It can have a lasting impact on our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. There are different types of trauma, including:
- Acute trauma: this type of trauma occurs as a result of a single event, such as a car accident or a natural disaster.
- Chronic trauma: this type of trauma results from repeated exposure to stressful events, such as ongoing abuse or neglect.
- Complex trauma: this type of trauma is the result of exposure to multiple traumatic events, often in childhood, that can have a lasting impact on our development and relationships.
Trauma can also be categorized into two main types: physical trauma and emotional trauma. Physical trauma refers to any injury or harm to the body, while emotional trauma refers to any harm to our emotional well-being.
Understanding emotional trauma and its impact on mental health
Emotional trauma can have a significant impact on our mental health. Trauma can cause us to feel intense emotions, such as fear, sadness, anger, or shame. It can also lead to symptoms of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other mental health conditions.
When we experience emotional trauma, our brain and body respond in ways that are designed to protect us. This can lead to changes in our brain chemistry, which can impact our thoughts, emotions, and behaviours. For example, trauma can cause us to become hypervigilant, constantly on guard for potential threats. It can also cause us to avoid situations or people that remind us of the traumatic event.
Signs and symptoms of emotional trauma in adults
The signs and symptoms of emotional trauma can vary from person to person. Some common signs of emotional trauma in adults include:
- Intense feelings of fear, helplessness, or horror
- Intrusive memories or flashbacks of the traumatic event
- Avoidance of people, places, or things that remind you of the trauma
- Feeling detached or disconnected from others
- Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
- Irritability or anger
- Hypervigilance or being easily startled
- Physical symptoms, such as headaches, stomachaches, or muscle tension
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to seek help from a mental health professional.
Trauma responses: fight, flight, freeze, or fawn
When we experience trauma, our body and brain respond differently to protect us. These responses are often referred to as the “four F’s”: fight, flight, freeze, or fawn.
- Fight: this response involves aggression or physical violence. It is often seen in individuals who have experienced childhood abuse or have been in combat.
- Flight: this response involves running away or avoiding the source of the trauma. It is often seen in individuals who have experienced a traumatic event, such as a natural disaster.
- Freeze: this response involves becoming immobilized or “playing dead.” It is often seen in individuals who have experienced sexual assault or other forms of violence.
- Fawn: this response involves trying to please or appease the source of the trauma. It is often seen in individuals who have experienced emotional or psychological abuse.
The ripple effect of trauma on everyday living
Trauma can have a ripple effect on our everyday living. It can impact our relationships, our ability to work or attend school, and our overall quality of life. Trauma can also lead to physical health problems, such as chronic pain, headaches, and digestive issues.
Trauma can also impact our ability to regulate our emotions, leading to mood swings, anxiety, and depression. It can also impact our self-esteem and sense of worthiness, leading to feelings of shame or guilt.
How to heal from trauma: steps to recovery
Healing from trauma is a process that takes time and effort. It is important to remember that recovery is possible, and there are steps you can take to heal from trauma.
- Seek professional help: a mental health professional can help you work through the effects of trauma and develop coping skills to manage your symptoms.
- Practice self-care: engage in activities that promote relaxation, such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises.
- Build a support system: surround yourself with people who care about you and can provide emotional support.
- Express your feelings: talk to a trusted friend or therapist about your feelings and experiences.
- Challenge negative thoughts: work on changing negative self-talk and challenging beliefs that are not helpful.
- Consider somatic experiencing or polyvagal theory: these approaches focus on the body’s physical response to trauma and can help individuals reconnect with their bodies and emotions.
Seeking professional help for emotional trauma
If you are struggling with the effects of emotional trauma, it is important to seek help from a mental health professional. A therapist can work with you to develop coping skills and strategies to manage your symptoms and improve your overall quality of life.
There are many different types of therapy that can be helpful for individuals who have experienced trauma, including cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and somatic experiencing (SE).
Coping strategies for trauma survivors
In addition to seeking professional help, there are many coping strategies that can be helpful for trauma survivors. These strategies can help individuals manage their symptoms and improve their overall well-being.
- Engage in self-care activities, such as exercise, meditation, or spending time in nature.
- Build a support system of family and friends who can provide emotional support.
- Practice mindfulness, focusing on the present moment and accepting your thoughts and feelings without judgment.
- Join a support group for individuals who have experienced trauma.
- Engage in creative activities, such as art therapy or journaling, to process your feelings and experiences.
Effects of trauma on physical health
Trauma can have a significant impact on our physical health. It can lead to chronic pain, digestive issues, headaches, and other physical symptoms. Trauma can also impact our immune system, making us more susceptible to illness and disease.
Research has also shown that trauma can impact our epigenetics or the way our genes are expressed. This can lead to changes in our brain chemistry and impact our overall health and well-being.
Conclusion: the importance of acknowledging and addressing trauma for personal growth and well-being
Trauma is a complex and often difficult experience to navigate. It can impact all areas of our lives, from our mental and emotional well-being to our physical health and relationships.
It is important to acknowledge the impact of trauma and seek help from a mental health professional. By taking steps to heal from trauma, we can improve our overall quality of life and experience personal growth and well-being.
If you or someone you know is struggling with the effects of trauma, reach out for help. Remember, recovery is possible, and there is hope for a brighter future.
- American Psychological Association. (2017). Trauma. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/topics/trauma/
- National Institute of Mental Health. (2019). Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2014). SAMHSA’s Concept of Trauma and Guidance for a Trauma-Informed Approach. Retrieved from https://store.samhsa.gov/product/SAMHSA-s-Concept-of-Trauma-and-Guidance-for-a-Trauma-Informed-Approach/SMA14-4884