This blog post will be focused on what is trauma, the types of traumas and then ways to cope with trauma. Please know that this blog post is not a substitute for therapy. If you have experienced a trauma it is important to reach out for help.
What is Trauma?
Trauma is a very complex concept to break down because everybody experiences trauma in an individualized way. No two traumatic experiences are the same, and everyone responds differently to instances of trauma. Trauma refers to the experience of an event, repeated event, or a circumstance that can have lasting harmful effects on the individual’s physical and emotional wellbeing (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2022). Trauma can occur from physical injuries caused by something or psychological injuries caused by a disturbing event or circumstance. Though many people think about trauma in terms of significant negative events, it is important to recognize that trauma can occur from any instance that causes pain and/or negative emotions on a person. No event is too small to be considered traumatic. There are three main types of trauma: Acute, Chronic, or Complex
Types of Trauma – Acute Trauma:
Acute trauma results from a single event that caused intense stress. The overwhelming threat from a specific incident can cause your body to become stuck in a threat response even after the event has stopped. Acute trauma can refer to a natural disaster, physical assault, a car crash, singular instance of sexual abuse, loss of a loved one, bullying, or really any instance that causes your autonomic nervous system to become overstimulated by the feeling of threat (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2022).
Types of Trauma – Chronic Trauma:
Chronic trauma is when an individual experiences repeated instances of a traumatic event. Some examples of chronic trauma include domestic abuse, war, neglect, repeated instances of sexual abuse, bullying, or any other traumatic instance that occurred more than one time.
Types of Trauma – Complex Trauma:
Complex trauma refers to when an individual is exposed to several traumatic events over the course of their life. This generally refers to trauma that occurred in the context between people, specifically close relationships. Some examples of complex trauma can include childhood abuse, domestic violence, family disputes, and other familial conflicts.
It is important to recognize that trauma can occur from any instance, and no issue is considered too small or insignificant to cause a traumatic response. Everyone reacts differently to situations, and it is key to be able to recognize symptoms from trauma. Whatever the type of trauma may be, it is important to seek help and work through the traumatic experience.
Responses to trauma: how can trauma impact your emotional wellbeing?
There are many ways that trauma can impact your psychological health. Responses to trauma can happen immediately after the event occurred, or the individual may experience a delayed response. For most people, emotional responses to trauma last for several weeks or months following the event (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2022).
Common emotional responses to trauma:
- Feeling anxious, sad, angry
- Trouble sleeping and concentrating
- Frequent crying
- Flashbacks to the event
- Feeling irritable
- Having nightmares
- Avoiding places, people, or things that bring back memories of the trauma
- Isolating from family and friends
Responses to trauma: how can trauma affect your physical well-being?
Paying attention to your body after a traumatic event can be helpful in identifying responses to trauma.
Common physical responses to trauma:
- Stomach pain and digestive problems
- Feeling unusually tired
- Fast heart rate and sweating
- Being easily startled
- Spacing out and trouble living in the present moment
Ways to cope with trauma
It is so important to turn to positive coping strategies after a traumatic event. It may be easy to turn to unhealthy coping strategies like drugs, alcohol, and isolation, but these types of coping behaviors can worsen your psychological and physical well-being. Though it is not easy to face trauma, it is critical to engage in positive coping strategies to recover.
1.Try not to isolate yourself, spend time with loved ones
After experiencing a traumatic experience, you may be tempted to withdraw from friends, family, and social instances. However, connecting with others can be helpful in your healing process. Connection and companionship can help reduce feelings of stress and hopelessness. Though talking to a loved one about your trauma may be helpful, it is also perfectly okay to not talk about it with others.
2.Find a licensed therapist who has experience with trauma to help you navigate your struggles
Sometimes professional guidance is necessary to cope with trauma. It is a very overwhelming experience to try to navigate trauma by yourself, and a therapist or psychologist that has experience with trauma can certainly guide you towards healing and help you cope better. It is also so important to have a safe person to discuss your feelings with. Know that in therapy it will go at your pace, and you will not be pushed to talk about anything you are not ready for.
3.Try meditation, deep breathing exercises, or yoga
Meditation, diaphragmatic breathing, and yoga are a great way to relieve stress and connect your body with your mind. There are even trauma informed yoga providers available. It is normal to feel a sense of numbness after a traumatic experience, and these forms of self-care can help you connect with the present moment. =
4.Take care of your body
Is it important to give your body the fuel it needs to be able to function throughout the day. It is important to eat regular meals and to drink water throughout the day. Also try to get outside and get some sunshine if you are able to. Exercise is a great way to relieve stress and elevate your endorphins. Though exercise may be the last thing you want to do when you are feeling poorly, exercise can be a great way to enhance your mood.
5.Follow a routine.
Routines can be a healthy way to establish consistency within your life.
Trauma can really disrupt your normal routine and make it difficult to prioritize certain responsibilities. When your mind is elsewhere, daily tasks can be tempting to ignore and feel impossible to accomplish. However, slowly trying to reestablish a routine can help feel more fulfilled. Though easier said than done, establishing a routine can reduce feelings of hopelessness and stress.
We want you to know that there is no right or wrong way to response to trauma. Every instance of trauma is unique and produces different emotions for everyone. Though experiencing trauma may cause feelings of hopelessness, there are psychologists that can help you navigate your experience and support you through difficult times. At Best Within You Therapy & Wellness, we have several psychologists that are highly trained and experienced in working with clients who have experienced trauma. We provide EMDR in addition to talk therapy to help with trauma. We are here to support you and create a non-judgmental space for you to feel supported. Please feel free to reach out for a free consultation.
Thank you to Jacqueline Zimmerman, Best Within You Therapy & Wellness Intern for her help with this blog post.