Just the Facts:  Trauma

What is trauma?

Trauma is a reaction when a person is overwhelmed by events or circumstances and responds with intense fear, horror, and helplessness. Extreme trauma can override a person’s capacity to cope and can cause a number of physical health conditions as well, such as diabetes, COPD, heart disease, cancer and high blood pressure.

How common is it?

70% of adults in the U.S. have experienced some type of traumatic event at least once in their lives. That translates to more than 223-million people. In behavioral health the numbers go up—more than 90% of clients have experienced trauma.

What causes it?

Trauma experiences include such things as:
• Childhood abuse or neglect
• Physical, emotional or sexual abuse
• Accidents and natural disasters
• Grief and loss
• War and other violent acts
• Witnessing acts of violence
• Medical interventions and certain medications
• Cultural, intergenerational and historical trauma

How do its effects show up?

Physical

• Headaches, backaches, stomach aches, etc.
• More susceptible to colds and illnesses
• Sudden sweating and/or heart palpitations
• Changes in sleep patterns, appetite, interest in sex
• Constipation or diarrhea

Emotional

• Easily startled by noises or unexpected touch
• Increased use of alcohol or drugs and/or overeating
• Emotional swings, including fear, depression, anxiety, or outbursts of anger or rage
• Self-blame, survivor guilt, or shame
• Diminished interest in everyday activities

Cognitive

• Nightmares and flashbacks — re-experiencing the trauma
• Difficulty with memory, concentration, and making decisions

Interpersonal

• Regular conflict with others
• Tendency to become isolated or detached, difficulty trusting and/or feeling betrayed
• Overprotectiveness
• Poor performance at work or school

What can help?

• Acknowledge that you have been through traumatic events (be honest)
• Connect with others, especially those who are more likely to be supportive
• Exercise & Relaxation—walking, jogging, yoga, stretching, meditation, massage
• Maintain a balanced diet and sleep cycle
• Avoid over-using stimulants like caffeine, sugar, and nicotine or depressants like alcohol and marijuana
• Take up music, art, or other hobbies or interests
• Commit to something personally meaningful and purposeful every day
• Write about your experience for yourself or to share with others

What if that’s not enough?

• See a professional therapist specifically trained in dealing with trauma
• Seek Cognitive Behavioral Therapies such as Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) or Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)
• Request Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy
• Peer Support Groups

 

The good news is that people can and do recover from trauma. With professional help, most people can go on to live very meaningful and productive lives and move past the limitations and effects of trauma.