Trauma and Stress

Like beauty trauma is in the eye of the beholder. Most people think of trauma as arising from experiencing or witnessing a catastrophic event of some type that would be traumatic to nearing anyone, even to whole communities, because it threatens one’s life or limb or that of a loved one. Such events include natural disasters, violent crime, horrific auto accidents, abuse, torture, acts of warfare, or a devastating fire or life-altering injury.

Certainly such events are severely traumatic and lead to risk of deep psychological scars that most people need some level of professional help to recover from. But given individuals may experience other less universally traumatic events that can also be highly traumatic and have painful, long-lasting psychologically negative consequences if not treated. Such events might include such things as loss of a job, financial ruin, loss of a home, a divorce, developing of a serious or chronic illness, losing custody of one’s child or some other occurrence that might not seem to have life-shattering consequences to others but are very much so to the particular individual who has been waylaid by them.

With trauma that seriously disrupts our well-being, early intervention is crucial. The needed longer help is delayed the more problematic it becomes. Even if buried in the back of one’s mind it can haunt us for years, diminish our enjoyment and participation in life and lead to other traumas getting piled one upon another over time. Here is some information about trauma, it effects and how to know when it’s important to get help for yourself or someone you love.

What is trauma?

Stress lies at the core of trauma. We all experience stress as part of life. It arises from any demand on the body, including the positive demands made by exercise or competing in a sport or contest. Stress becomes “traumatic” when the demands overwhelm our emotional or physical abilities to maintain equilibrium and cope.

We respond to the stress of trauma with a wide range of physical and emotional reactions that are unpleasant and even frightening but normal and to be expected:

Common emotional and psychological reactions to trauma:

  • Shock, denial, or disbelief
  • Anger, irritability, mood swings
  • Guilt, shame, self-blame
  • Uncontrolled sorrow, tears or hopelessness
  • Accident prone
  • Lack of interest and motivation
  • Frustrated and impatient
  • Confusion, difficulty concentrating
  • Anxiety, panic
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Feeling disconnected or numb
  • Flashbacks, dwelling on past events

Common physical symptoms of trauma:

  • Sleep problems or nightmares
  • Being startled easily
  • Racing heartbeat, thoughts
  • Aches, pains, muscle tension
  • Changes in appetite
  • Poor memory

 

  • Fatigue, exhaustion
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Edginess and agitation
  • Muscle tension
  • Intestinal upset or nausea
  • Sweating or perspiring
  • Trembly or shaky

For up to even several weeks these responses can be thought to be normal and will fade as we process the trauma. Even as the fade, we may be troubled from time to time by painful memories or emotions—especially in response to triggers such as an anniversary of the event or an image, sound, or situation that reminds you of the traumatic experience. This too is normal. Such the symptoms are not normal, though, if they symptoms prevent adequate functioning. When trauma interrupts adequate functioning can may be what is called acute stress and counseling can help.

It is also not normal if these symptoms continue for more than a few weeks, last months or even years after the event. This is when the term post traumatic stress (PTSD) is used. The most common notable symptoms of PTSD are flashbacks, hyperarousal (as in always being on alert) and avoidance of thoughts, l anything that might resemble or remind one of the traumatic event. Counseling is most helpful and usually needed in recovering from PTSD.

Why do people respond differently?

We all know people who are highly resilient. They can withstand trauma without it interruption to their ability to function. We would all like to be this resilient. But there are several reasons we are not. These reasons explain while
some people struggle more with trauma than others. As you’ll see, it is not their fault and we should not judge them or ourselves if trauma is more difficult to handle.

  1. Severity. The more earth  shattering or horrific the event the more difficult recovery may be.
  2. Frequency. The more traumatic events someone has experience over their lifetime the more difficult recovering from another one may be.
  3. Separation. When someone experiences such a series of frequent or sever traumas that they have difficulty separating one from the other it is more difficulty recovering from them.
  4. Support. People who have been raised in a stable, supportive background and have many supportive resources may handle trauma more easily.
  5. Significance. The significance  of a trauma to a person’s life the more difficult it may be to go on.
  6. Proximity. The nearer the traumatic event is to a person the more challenging it may be.
  7. Suddenness or unexpectedness.  If there has been a chance to prepare oneself for a trauma it can be, but in not necessarily, easier to take it in stride.
  8. Inexplicability. Often the more  difficult it is to understand what happened and why the more difficult to  a trauma can be.
  9. Causation. Traumas that could  have been prevented or that seem to have occurred on purpose or through negligence can be more difficult to get past. As are traumas for which we  feel unintentionally responsible.
  10. Psychological, mental and physical health. If we are already suffering from a physical or mental ailment at the time of the trauma it is usually more difficult to get      through and more on.
  11. Stigmatization. Traumas that  are too “unspeakable,” humiliating or embarrassing to talk about can be  more difficult to deal with both because of our own feelings about the event  but also because of real or feared reactions of others.
  12. Age. Children have are  developmentally vulnerable to and fewer internal resources for dealing with trauma. They, as well as adults at times, may regress to younger behavior or use defense mechanisms that prevent dealing with the trauma until a later time. Science is showing for example that violent behavior is often linked to early or continuing traumatic experiences in the home or community.
  13. Coping style. How one solves problems, handles anxiety, inhibits or expresses feelings, seeks and accepts support, faces or runs from problems all effects how someone will respond to trauma.
  14. Cognitive style, beliefs, values and world view. For example, whether one is optimistic or  pessimistic by nature and tends to take action or ruminate can either help      or hinder recovery.
  15. Self-esteem. The degree to  which we have a positive self-image, believes we can competently handle  whatever comes along and feels about to be in control of our circumstance affects our ability to respond to trauma.
  16. Current life circumstances. If one is already dealing with challenging circumstances he or she may have more difficult responding to a trauma on top of all they are already managing.

When does one need help?

If the symptoms listed above persist for more than several weeks, make it difficult to function adequately, or lead to on-going depression, anxiety or panic attacks, counseling, possibly combined with medical treatment, can help. Here are some specific signs that it is time to seek help:

  • Trouble functioning at home, school or work
  • Severe  fear, anxiety, or depression
  • Unable to form close, satisfying relationships
  • Terrifying memories, nightmares, or flashbacks
  • Avoiding more and more things that remind you of the trauma
  • Unable to escape dwelling on the trauma
  • Emotionally numb and disconnected from others
  • Using  alcohol or drugs to escape thoughts and feelings

 What type of counseling helps?

Both psychological and spiritual counseling can help someone recover from trauma. Practitioners, of which I am one, believe that Integrated Trauma Therapy is the best approach. Integrated Trauma Therapists have found that no method is one size-fits-all.  We draw upon a wide range of unified methods and models to tailor the counseling approach to the needs and nature of each give person.

People who are still suffering after a loss from trauma often feel misunderstood by friends and loved ones who say “You should be over this by now.” But they have tried to get over it and can’t or they would have. They may even tried therapy to no avail, but by addressing an often overlooked aspect of trauma and grief can help. It’s done through a series of private sessions designed to heal the wounded essential self.

If you or a loved one is suffering from a trauma and believes you could need help, please contact me to discuss what will be of help to you.