There is a lot in this world that is worth celebrating. The smile of a child, a bright sunny summer day, time with family over the holidays. However, there is also a lot in the world to lament and that brings us to despair. Some events we experience in life are traumatic, and they affect us physically, mentally, or emotionally in negative ways. In this article we will look at some of the common effects of trauma.
What is Trauma?
A person may experience a distressing or negative event, leading them to feel threatened, anxious, or frightened. Trauma is this emotional response a person has to a negative event, and while it is a normal reaction, some of its effects can begin interfering with day to day life.
The physical, emotional, spiritual, or psychological harm brought about by trauma may require a person to seek help in dealing with the stress and disfunction caused to restore their overall sense of well-being.
Different Causes of Trauma
As there are different types of trauma, trauma can be caused by a variety of things. The trauma can be caused by a one-off event, or by a series of events, such as domestic abuse. A car accident can cause physical trauma, or you can be traumatized emotionally by having your life threatened, say in a robbery or home invasion.
Trauma can also be caused by events such as war, physical or sexual abuse, or living through a natural disaster like an earthquake, hurricane, or wildfire. In some cases, a person witnessing these events or simply hearing about them can themselves be traumatized – you don’t have to be going through them personally for trauma to occur.
Other examples of distressing events that can cause trauma include:
- the death of a family member, spouse, child, friend, or pet
- going through a divorce
- experiencing a serious illness
- parental abandonment
- witnessing someone’s death
- all forms of abuse
The Effects of Trauma
Trauma harms the emotional, physical, and mental well-being of an individual. Some of these effects set in immediately, both mentally and physically, after the traumatic event, while others may linger for many years to come, affecting various areas of life.
Shortly after the event, shock and denial are typical responses that often protect the individual from the emotional impact of what just happened. A feeling of numbness or detachment which reduce the full impact of the event is also usually present.
After these initial reactions, other common responses to trauma and effects of trauma include:
- flashbacks to the traumatic event
- disturbed sleep patterns, whether sleeping too much, disrupted sleep, or insomnia. A person might feel unsafe and afraid of having nightmares
- changes in appetite
- irritability, anger, and sudden dramatic mood swings
- sensitivity to loud noises
- physical symptoms of stress like headaches, chest pain, other aches and pains, or nausea
- struggling to concentrate
- struggling to connect with loved ones and withdrawal from day to day activities
- an intense fear that the traumatic event will recur, especially around the anniversary of the incident, or if you happen to be in the same area
In some individuals, a condition known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can develop after they go through a traumatic event. People such as veterans may suffer from PTSD when they return from the front line. PTSD is a type of anxiety disorder that affects one’s stress hormones and changes how the body responds to stress and stressful situations.
PTSD can trigger intense physical and emotional responses to thoughts or memories of the event, or sometimes to other benign situations, like when a car backfires and they respond as though they are in a firefight. PTSD can last for months or years after the traumatic event.
It’s not entirely certain why some people experience PTSD after a traumatic event while others do not. People who struggle with this disorder need sturdy social support and therapy to help them cope with daily life.
Because of the effect trauma can have on your body and overall health, in the longer term, trauma could render you more vulnerable to developing physical health problems, including long-term or chronic illnesses, and it can exacerbate any health conditions that you may already have.
The impact of trauma can last a short time, come and go, or be present with you for a long time. In addition to the health problems it creates, trauma can make getting on with the day-to-day aspects of your life difficult, including:
- Dealing with transitions and change
- Taking care of yourself
- Holding down a steady job
- Maintaining your existing friendships or relationships
- Building relationships and trusting others
- Keeping track of things and making decisions
- Having a vibrant sex life
- Enjoying downtime and leisure
What Can You Do about the Effects of Trauma?
Trauma can be debilitating, and it can feel as though there is little you can do about it. Thankfully, there are methods available to help you deal with the traumatic event itself, and the ensuing effects of the trauma. The shock and denial that immediately attend a traumatic event are the body and mind’s way of dealing with what has happened. Beyond that, it is healthy to work through and process what happened, coming to terms with it and moving forward.
One of the first steps to moving forward is to acknowledge to yourself and others around you that you’ve gone through a traumatic event and come to terms with the fact that your emotions might be affected by it. Beyond that, you can consider ways of dealing with the physical symptoms of trauma, as well as therapy to help you process the trauma.
Some ways that you can begin dealing with the effects of trauma include:
Asking your loved ones for support, because your meaningful relationships help you to feel connected, and trauma can often heal with the help and support of those important relationships. Spend time with the people in your family, your spiritual community, or your close friends.
Maintaining healthy routines, where possible. These routines include regular exercise, eating healthy food consistently, and sleeping well. The added benefit of routine is that it can help you feel a bit more in control of your life again, and exercise helps with reducing stress.
Reducing stress by avoiding making any major decisions after the trauma. It may seem tempting to make choices about where to live, for instance, after a traumatic event occurs in your home. But making major decisions about your relationships, career, your home, or your financial situation may add stress to an already stressful situation.
Deep breathing and mindfulness techniques are a way to help your body regulate anxiety and anger. Deep “belly breathing” uses your diaphragm and is one of the ways your body tells your parasympathetic nervous system it’s okay to calm down.
Breathe in through your nose and out your mouth each on a 3 count for 60 seconds. Mindfulness techniques include locating yourself in the moment, holding something in your hand and describing it, noticing things in the room, so you can be in this moment and not living in a distressing past or future moment.
Trauma therapy is another tool to address trauma and its emotional and psychological effects.
Take steps to find a licensed mental health care professional like a psychiatrist or psychologist to tend to your emotional and mental health needs, or to a health care professional like your doctor to deal with any of the physical effects from the traumatic event. Dealing with the emotional and mental effects of trauma sooner than later can stave off more serious problems like clinical depression down the line.
Some of the therapeutic techniques that might be useful as part of your treatment plan include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which can be especially helpful for addressing trauma and its effects. CBT is a form of talk therapy that helps you identify and manage negative and harmful patterns of thought, replacing these negative perceptions with healthy thoughts and behaviors.
Another therapy is EMDR (Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) which uses bilateral stimulation (watching something go back and forth, or tapping your leg or shoulder left and right) as a means to allow the brain to unpack and relocate parts of traumatic memory (sight, smell, sound, associations) so remembering the memory does not mean re-experiencing it.
Other therapies include Somatic Experiencing, which pays close attention to your natural reactions to emotional and physical trauma and works with your body’s natural ability to heal itself, and through natural reactions to stress such as crying, and Psychodynamic Therapy, which gives you tools and space to express and unpack your feelings in a safe environment
Medication that may be prescribed by your doctor is related to the aftereffects of trauma, such as depression or anxiety. Anti-depressants and medication for anxiety may thus be prescribed by your doctor to address these.
After a traumatic event, you need to be easy on yourself and give yourself time. Your path to wholeness won’t look the same as someone else’s, so do what you feel you must to get healthy again and walk in God’s promises of peace and joy.
“The Wash”, Courtesy of Daniel Spase, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Yellow Flowers”, Courtesy of Pat Whelen, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Not Flowers”, Courtesy of Sam Moqadam, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Pink Flowers”, Courtesy of Kelly Sikkema, Unsplash.com, CC0 License