What is Trauma?
When a devastating event disrupts your life, all of a sudden everything changes. You cannot return to your usual routine — you may have lost your home, or a loved one, or experienced a serious injury or illness. At first, you may feel “stunned,” “shaken up,” “beaten down,” or “numb all over.” These are normal reactions to traumatic events.
There are two types of trauma — physical and mental. Physical trauma includes the body’s response to serious injury and threat. Mental trauma includes frightening thoughts and painful feelings. They are the mind’s response to serious injury. Mental trauma can produce strong feelings. It can also produce extreme behavior; such as intense fear or helplessness, withdrawal or detachment, lacks of concentration, irritability, sleep disturbance, aggression, hypervigilance -intensely watching for more distressing events, or flashbacks — the sense that event is reoccurring.
A response could be fear. It could be fear that a loved one will be hurt or killed. It is believed that more direct exposures to traumatic events causes greater harm. For instance, in a school shooting, an injured student will probably be more severely affected emotionally than a student who was in another part of the building. However, second-hand exposure to violence can also be traumatic. This includes witnessing violence such as seeing or hearing about death and destruction after a building is bombed or a plane crashes.
The path back to wellness may take longer than you expect. It is important to remember that people can help you in important ways, and that it can be a good idea to ask for assistance.
Common Responses to a Traumatic Event
Common responses can include:
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Fear of harm to self and/or loved ones
- Extreme emotions
- Poor concentration
- Memory loss
- Unwanted memories
- Difficulty making decisions
- Rapid heart rate
- Poor sleep
- Arguments with friends and loved ones
- Excessive silence
- Inappropriate humor
- Eating more or less than usual
- Substance use or abuse
Remember that we each have different needs and different ways to cope.
Positive coping strategies include these elements:
Take charge of your healing to counteract the effects of the trauma where all control was taken away from you.
You need others to listen to you, to validate the importance of what happened to you, and to understand the role of this trauma in your life.
Trauma makes you feel very alone. As part of your healing, you need to reconnect with others.
Sources: National Institute of Mental Health. SAMHSA