What is Trauma?
A trauma is a deeply distressing or disturbing experience that can result in physical and/or psychological injury. Traumatic events can be extraordinarily stressful and can shatter your sense of security. They often involve a threat to your life or safety but it can be any situation that leaves you feeling overwhelmed and isolated, even if it doesn’t involve physical harm. The more frightened and helpless you feel, the more likely you are to be traumatized.
Psychological trauma can be caused by:
One-time events - accident, injury, violent attack, especially if it was unexpected and/or happened in childhood
Ongoing, relentless stress - living in a crime-ridden neighborhood, battling a life-threatening disease, or experiencing traumatic events that occur repeatedly such as bullying, domestic violence, or childhood neglect
Commonly overlooked causes - surgery (especially during the first 3 years of life), the sudden death of someone close, the breakup of a significant relationship, a humiliating or deeply disturbing experience, especially if someone was deliberately cruel
Risk factors for trauma:
You’re under heavy stress load
Recently suffered a series of losses
You have been traumatized before - especially if the trauma occurred in childhood
Childhood trauma can result from:
An unstable or unsafe environment
Separation from a parent
Intrusive medical procedures
Sexual, physical, or verbal abuse
Psychological Trauma Symptoms:
Shock, denial, disbelief
Confusion, difficulty concentrating
Anger, irritability, mood swings
Guilt, shame, self-blame
Withdrawing from others
Feeling sad or hopeless
Feeling disconnected or numb
Physical Trauma Symptoms:
Insomnia or nightmares
Being startled easily
Racing heart beat
Edginess and agitation
Aches and pains
How long does it take to heal from trauma?
Typically a few days or a few months, symptoms tend to ease as time goes on. However, it is not uncommon to have a resurgence of symptoms during anniversaries of the time the trauma happened or something that reminds your of the event.
When to get help for trauma:
If your symptoms do not appear to be getting better or if they get worse over time. If you continue to experience trauma symptoms for prolonged period of time, you may be experiencing Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This happens when the nervous system gets “stuck” meaning you remain in psychological shock, you’re unable to make sense of what happened nor process your emotions.
How to start healing from trauma NOW on your own:
Trauma disrupts your body’s natural equilibrium; thus, freezing you in a state of hyperarousal and fear. As well as burning off adrenaline and releasing endorphins, exercise and movement can actually help repair your nervous system.
Get moving - 30 minutes, or more, of exercise most days. Or three 10-minute spurts of exercise per day.
Exercise that is rhythmic - engages both your arms and legs, such as walking, running, swimming, basketball, or even dancing
Add a mindfulness element - instead of focusing on your thoughts, focus on how your body feels as you move (i.e. your feet hitting the ground, the rhythm of your breath, feeling the wind on your skin). Rock climbing, boxing, weight training, or martial arts can make this easier
Following a trauma, your first instinct will likely be to isolate but this only makes it worse. Connecting with other face-to-face will help you heal.
If you’re not able to do this right away, go easy on yourself and make it a long-term goal.
Keep in mind:
You don’t have to talk about the trauma - in fact, this could make things worse
Ask for support - talk to a trusted friend, family member, clergymember, or counselor
Reconnect with old friends - just having someone to talk to and listen to you can go a long way
Join a support group for trauma survivors - nobody understands what you’re going through like others who can relate to what you’re going through
Volunteer - challenge that sense of helplessness by helping others
Make new friends - take a class or join a club
Self-regulate your nervous system
No matter how out of control you might feel, you must know that you can change your arousal system and calm yourself. This will also give you a greater sense of self-control.
Mindful breathing - take long, slow deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth for 60 seconds.
Sensory input - experiment with specific sights, smells, or tastes that make your feel calm (i.e. petting an animal or listening to music)
Stay grounded - sit in a chair, feel your feet on the ground, and your back against the chair. Look around you and pick 6 objects that have red or blue in them. Notice how your breathing gets deeper and calmer.
Allow yourself to feel what you feel when you feel it - let whatever feelings come up and accept them.
Take care of your health
Having a healthy body can increase your ability to cope with stress
Get enough sleep - shoot for 7-9 hours. See your doctor if you need help
Avoid alcohol and drugs - these things actually make your symptoms worse
Eat a well-balanced diet - keeps your energy up and minimizes mood swings
Reduce stress - relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, deep breathing
When to seek professional help for trauma:
Everyone heals at their own pace but if weeks or months have passed and you’re just not getting better, you may need to seek a trauma expert.
Seek help for trauma if you’re:
Having trouble functioning at work or home
Suffering from severe fear, anxiety, or depression
Unable to form and/or maintain close, satisfying relationships
Experiencing terrifying memories, nightmares, or flashbacks
Avoiding more and more anything that reminds you of the trauma
Emotionally numb and disconnected from others
Using alcohol or drugs to feel better
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Blue Sage Counseling and Wellness, and the information provided by Ashley Francis, is solely intended for informational and entertainment purposes and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis, or treatment regarding medical or mental health conditions. Although Ashley Francis is a licensed marriage and family therapist, the views expressed on this site or any related content should not be taken for medical or psychiatric advice. Always consult your physician before making any decisions related to your physical or mental health.