When we experience an event that causes us physical, emotional, psychological or spiritual harm, we can be left with lasting fear, memories or emotions surrounding this event. These sorts of distressing or disturbing events are known as trauma.
Due to the nature of traumatic events, it can take time to recover. In this article I try to look at how people react to trauma and how to deal with its effects.
How The Body Responds To Trauma
The human body responds to trauma in a variety of ways and this can vary by individual. You have likely heard of the ‘Fight or Flight’ response to danger in the moment, but there are a few other ‘F’s to consider too:
Fight: you become defensive and fight back
Flight: you hide or run away
Freeze: you are unable to move or make decisions
Flop: You become overwhelmed or unresponsive, sometimes even fainting
Fawn: You try to please or win over the person threatening you
Common Psychological Effects Of Trauma
Everyone will respond to trauma in different ways and often there are no physical signs. These are some of the most common psychological effects that trauma can have on our mental health.
The impact of trauma can cause panic attacks, where the person has a sudden episode of intense fear. Symptoms have been likened to having a heart attack.
If the traumatic incident is to do with loss, the person will likely experience grief or sadness as a result, but you can also experience grief in response to how the trauma has changed your life.
Negative perception of yourself
Trauma often affects the way you perceive yourself; mostly negatively. If you are experiencing trauma, you may also experience self-doubt, self-blame, reduced self-esteem or even self-hatred as a result.
Alcohol and substance abuse
Those who have gone through trauma sometimes turn to alcohol or drugs to try and cope with difficult memories by numbing their emotions.
Self-harm or suicidal thoughts
Sometimes people use self harm as a way of dealing with what happened to them, while others have suicidal thoughts in the aftermath of the event. If you experience such thoughts, please contact a crisis helpline such as the Samaritans 24/7 on 116 123.
Dissociation is another way to deal with trauma, where the person mentally detaches themselves from what happened.
Those who have experienced a traumatic event may become hyper-aroused as a result; often feeling extremely anxious and on edge.
Effects Of Trauma On The Body
When you are in a traumatic situation, you may notice any or all of the following physical symptoms:
Heart beating faster
Quick, shallow breathing
These are common things to experience during the event itself, but you may find that the feelings continue after the trauma has passed, or when you recall it.
The Link Between Trauma, PTSD And Depression
You may have heard of a condition known as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, in association with trauma.
PTSD is a type of anxiety disorder experienced by those who have gone through a life-threatening event or seen something disturbing. Those affected have intense physical and emotional responses to their memories of the event, which can last for years after the trauma occurred. People with PTSD usually require long-term therapy or ongoing support to come to terms with what happened.
Can Trauma Affect You Years Later?
The answer to this question is yes - it’s common to experience repeated memories of the trauma in the weeks, months and even years following the event. Some of the after effects of traumatic experiences include:
Nightmares or night terrors
Intense fear that the event will recur
Withdrawal from everyday life
Changes in thought patterns
Difficulty maintaining relationships
Difficulty trusting others
Difficulty holding down a job
Changed sleep patterns or insomnia
Anxiety and depression
Worsening of an existing medical condition
How To Deal With Trauma
If you have gone through a traumatic event, there are ways to help you deal with what happened. These include:
Seeking professional advice
Professional counsellors and therapists are experts in dealing with trauma and can support you in processing your experiences. There are also a number of different treatments to help treat PTSD. These include psychotherapy, but also trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy (TF-CBT) and Eye movement Desensitisation & Reprocessing (EMDR). You might also be offered antidepressants if you have found other treatments are not working.
Putting yourself first
Trauma is incredibly hard to deal with, so be kind to yourself and take it easy in the weeks or months following the event. If you need to take time off work, speak to your GP.
Talking to family and friends
It may be hard to open up at times but don’t rule out talking to family and friends as a way of dealing with trauma. Get support where it is available.
Calling a Helpline
If you feel as though you are struggling to deal with your trauma, helplines like The Samaritans are there day and night to talk.
I hope this article has been an informative guide to trauma and its effects.
The content on this page is provided for general information only. It is not intended to, and does not mount to advice which you should rely on. If you think you are experiencing any medical condition you should seek immediate medical attention from a doctor or other professional healthcare provider.