The 24/7 news cycle is unavoidable in this day and age of social media. The news is full of stories that can be disturbing, to say the least, but may also be bringing up memories of traumatic events that have occurred in your life. The MeToo movement brought up painful memories for many individuals. Marginalized communities are experiencing trauma brought about by the political decisions in various countries around the world. Conflicts have resulted in the displacement of communities. These are just a few examples of what we are being exposed to daily.
Trauma can be found on a spectrum that may culminate in a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). So, how do we define it and what can we do to take care of ourselves and others who may be experiencing (or re-experiencing) trauma? As defined by the Oxford dictionary, trauma is a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. It is also the emotional shock following a stressful event or a physical injury, which may lead to long-term neurosis. According to Merriam-Webster, trauma is a disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury. It is an emotional upset. The CMHA (Canadian Mental Health Association) states that something is traumatic when it is very frightening, overwhelming and causes a lot of distress. Trauma is often unexpected, and many people say that they felt powerless to stop or change the event.
The commonality in these definitions is the emotional and mental upset. According to these definitions then, trauma is a wide-ranging category of responses to various life events. To add to the complexity, different people respond in different ways to these life events, therefore, what may be a trauma to one individual is not traumatic to another. This is why it serves no one to compare traumatic events to determine who may be worthier of support. It also does not matter whether the traumatic situation or event happens to us personally or to our loved ones. We do a disservice to ourselves and others when we try to compare or quantify the nature of the trauma from one situation to the next.
What are the causes of trauma?
There is not one single, or simple, answer to this question. We can look at trauma from two different perspectives:
- One-time events: these events can be recent or in the past. Some examples may include a car crash, an assault, death of a loved one, a natural disaster or war.
- Ongoing or long-term events: this can include ongoing childhood neglect, physical or sexual abuse, bullying, domestic violence, to name a few.
Any of these events, and many more, can have a variety of impacts on an individual but we have determined that a person is more likely to be traumatized by an event if they:
- Are already under a heavy stress load.
- Recently suffered a series of losses
- Have been traumatized before – especially if earlier trauma occurred in childhood.
What are the symptoms of trauma?
Emotional and psychological symptoms may include:
- Shock, denial or disbelief.
- Confusion, difficulty concentrating.
- Anger, irritability, mood swings.
- Anxiety and fear.
- Guilt, shame, self-blame.
- Withdrawing from others
- Feeling sad or hopeless
- Feeling disconnected or numb.
Physical symptoms may include:
- Insomnia or nightmares.
- Being startled easily (hypervigilance).
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Racing heartbeat, panic attacks.
- Edginess and agitation.
- Aches and pains.
- Muscle tension.
What can I do to support myself?
There are 5 key ways to support yourself when experiencing signs of trauma.
- Get moving – engage in some physical activity, especially activity that is rhythmic, and add a mindfulness component. Examples include: walking, yoga, tai chi, dancing.
Don’t isolate yourself.
- You don’t have to talk about the trauma.
- Ask for support.
- Engage in social activities.
- Connect with friends.
- Join a support group.
- Volunteer in the community.
Self-regulate your nervous system.
- Engage in mindful breathing.
- Engage your five senses. This can be done by listening to music, aromatherapy, looking at art, to name a few.
- Stay grounded.
- Allow yourself to feel what you feel. You are entitled to your feelings!
Take care of your health.
- Sleep. Engage in sleep hygiene to get a restful and restorative sleep.
- Avoid alcohol and drugs.
- Eat a well-balanced diet.
- Reduce stress. Examples of this would be engaging in a yoga/mindfulness/meditation routine, participating in various hobbies.
Seek professional help. This is especially important if:
- You have trouble functioning.
- You are suffering from severe fear, anxiety/depression.
- You are unable to form close relationships.
- You are experiencing terrifying memories, nightmares or flashbacks.
- You are avoiding things that remind you of the trauma(s).
- You are emotionally numb and disconnected.
- You are using alcohol/drugs to feel better.
The sooner you access support, the better the outcomes for recovery. You don’t have to do this alone and there is no shame in getting the help you need for yourself or a loved one.
If you are experiencing symptoms of trauma or have any concerns/questions about supporting a loved one, contact me at 778-242-1123 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a free 30-minute telephone consultation to find out how I can help.