Life is full of inevitable challenges and adversity. Many of us will endure specific life experiences that change how we view the world around us as well as how we view ourselves. Understanding the intensity of these life experiences and how they affect us is essential when it comes to our ability to heal or engage in self-discovery. It is important to acknowledge trauma when it occurs so that you can get the proper treatment you need to work through it and persevere beyond it.
What Is Trauma?
Trauma is the result of an event or set of circumstances that a person experiences as mentally, physically, or emotionally threatening. The thing that sets trauma apart from any typical adverse experience is that it has lasting effects on an individual’s well-being, causing persistent impairment to an individual’s ability to function. The most important thing to understand about trauma is that it is subjective.
Trauma does not discriminate and many of us have had traumatic experiences whether we label them as trauma or not. The effects of trauma can significantly impact how we develop throughout our lives. Many people go about their lives having never talked about the trauma they have experienced, limiting their ability to heal from it. Trauma is especially common for those that experience mental illness and addiction. As trauma is subjective, how we respond to trauma is also subjective.
The Immediate Impact of Trauma
There are a variety of common symptoms that are associated with initial reactions to trauma, including:
- physical arousal
Common Reactions to Trauma
Aside from initial reactions, many individuals that experience trauma have similar reactions. These reactions are considered normal, although that does not make them any less distressing than they typically are. There are:
- Emotional reactions or emotional dysregulation such as persistent anger, fear, sadness, shame. Other individuals may experience a lack of emotions, such as numbness or avoidance.
- Physical reactions such as chronic health conditions, sleep disturbances, hyperarousal, gastrointestinal issues, cardiovascular issues, respiratory issues, and the use of substances as a way to cope. Psychologists have found significant biological alterations associated with trauma, such as changes in limbic system functioning or neurotransmitter-related dysregulation.
- Cognitive reactions such as cognitive errors, excessive guilt, trauma-induced hallucinations or delusions, derealization, or intrusive thoughts. Trauma survivors commonly report the experience of triggers and flashbacks occurring without conscious control.
- Behavioral reactions such as self-harm, self-destructive behavior, the consumption of substances through self-medication, avoidance, or other issues in social, interpersonal, and developmental functioning.
These reactions can be short-term and long-term. Typically, if trauma is not treated or worked through, these symptoms can and will worsen over time. It is crucial to understand that traumatic experiences are not meant to be dealt with alone, or overnight. Healing from traumatic experiences, and the symptoms associated with them must be approached similarly to other mental health conditions and addiction recovery—small steps forward every day.
How Can I Work Through Trauma?
If you have struggled to label your own experiences as trauma or have no previous experience working through trauma, healing can seem intimidating and overwhelming. It is important to remember that we all experience trauma, but the hardest part is to acknowledge it for what it is. Working through trauma can be triggering and unsettling, so healing works best when it is experienced with the guidance of a professional.
Some of the most effective treatments for trauma or PTSD include psychoeducation and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Psychoeducation is the process of learning what trauma and associated stress are, how it functions, and how one can persevere through it. Becoming educated about trauma can help you to identify distressing symptoms in yourself and others while reducing emotional feelings of shame or guilt that many individuals experience. CBT is a psychotherapy option that teaches a client relaxation strategies while helping the client understand irrational or challenging thoughts that could contribute to worsening trauma symptoms.
Other Therapeutic Modalities
There is also an option of exposure therapy, where a client is guided through their traumatic memories to safely discuss happenings. In exposure therapy, a client is encouraged to re-engage in situations or activities that they may have been avoiding because of anxiety or fear for another traumatic event occurring.
If you are unable to meet with a professional, here are some suggestions on ways to cope with trauma:
- Validate Your Experience. The trauma you have experienced is real. What you are experiencing is normal and it is important to acknowledge it in order to work past it. Acknowledging your experience for what it is will allow you to believe that the experience, or how you feel because of it, is not your fault.
- Use breathing techniques for relaxation. Focusing on your breathing can allow you to calm yourself slowly, anywhere at any time. It will help you to focus on the present moment instead of revisiting your traumatic event.
- Avoid isolation. Trauma can make you feel physically and mentally alone, especially when you may have experienced your traumatic event alone. In healing, find confidants in close family and friends that will be the social support you need to heal.
- Find reasons to laugh. Laughter can act as a medicine, especially around people that you appreciate and find comfort in. You are deserving and worthy of feeling safe, loved, and comforted in the present moment.
Trauma is something that many of us will inevitably endure throughout our lives. Trauma contributes to persistent feelings of distress, especially when it is not acknowledged or worked through over time. There are specific emotional, cognitive, behavioral, and physical reactions associated with trauma. Despite trauma being a common experience, many people are not taught how to heal from it. There are many useful therapeutic treatments available to help work through traumatic events. Without the assistance of a professional, it is important to validate your experience, avoid isolation, and use relaxation techniques when necessary. SoCal Mental Health understands the severe impact of traumatic events on an individual’s overall development and functioning. We recognize how crucial it is to heal from these experiences so that they do not contribute to worsening mental illness. For more information about the treatments options and resources we offer, give us a call today at (714) 328-4760.