Trauma can be intense, a wallop to your soul whose impact ripples out to cause mental, physical and emotional repercussions. In the aftermath of a traumatic event, you may think life as you know it has ended and you won’t know how to go on. Trauma and its aftereffects can have a profound, even long-lasting, impact on your life. That’s why coping with trauma is so important. Having the proper tools and avenues to process your trauma can not only help you get through it, but also get you to the other side feeling strong, whole and healed.
What Trauma Is
Trauma is the result of a major, life-altering event or long-term situation that causes extreme stress and leaves you feeling like you are in crisis mode. Examples of one-time traumatic events could include an attack or major crime perpetrated on you, a loved one or your home; an accident, such as a car crash; or a natural disaster such as a hurricane. Traumatic situations can include living in a home with psychological, physical or sexual abuse; spending time in a war zone; or dealing with crime and poverty on a daily basis.
For most people, especially those involved in a one-time traumatic event, the effects can be felt acutely and immediately; for others, it may take a while for the trauma to set in. Often, the signs and symptoms of trauma will eventually recede, but for some people they can linger. If that’s the case, the trauma can develop into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). With PTSD, trauma can intensify and linger, and the anxiety or depression that can develop may affect everything from personal relationships, to career, to physical and emotional health. The symptoms of trauma, whether temporary or in PTSD, are powerful and it’s critical to recognize them so you can seek out treatment that will help you regain your footing in life.
The Symptoms of Trauma
Initially after a traumatic event, you may feel like you are in a daze, or you may feel overcome with worry. In the days and weeks to come, other symptoms may start to appear. Your thoughts may involuntarily flash back to the incident, although some people block it out of their minds and can’t recall the details. Your thoughts may also turn back to the trauma time and again, causing you anxiety and distress.
In addition to anxiety, you may feel gripped with fear. You could be scared that the event will happen again, or you may worry that something else bad will happen to you or a loved one. You may prefer to stay home and not go out, especially to situations that could trigger traumatic memories—say, getting on the freeway after being in a car accident. Conversely, you could worry about being alone in case you are plagued with thoughts and emotions stemming from your trauma. Your emotions can swing between guilt, sadness, anger and frustration, coming out in an overwhelming rush or a little bit at a time—and you may not know when a traumatic feeling will hit you. Even a sudden sharp dog bark or the crash of a plate accidentally being dropped could startle you and make you nervous.
Trauma can also cause physical symptoms. They include nausea, headaches, shaking, impaired brain function regarding memory and the ability to focus, and disrupted eating and sleeping patterns. The effects of trauma may sometimes feel like too much to deal with, and the temptation may be to just hide away and not do anything about. But even though you may feel stuck in the trauma, you have to keep moving forward—bringing the issue out into the open and dealing with it honestly is necessary for coping with trauma.
How to Effectively Cope with Trauma
The symptoms of trauma don’t have to leave a huge scar if you can come to terms with it and seek out help; chances of recovery are usually better for people who are getting treatment.
If you are stuck in an ongoing traumatic situation, reach out for help immediately. That may require calling law enforcement or contacting your local social services department for referrals and resources. You want to seek out a safe haven so you can move away from the environment that is causing the trauma.
When coping with trauma, whether from a particular incident or an ongoing situation, you want to talk about it with people you trust. That can encompass family members, friends, health care providers and, perhaps most importantly, a counselor or therapist. You need to build a network of people who support you and can walk with you during this challenging time. A professional counselor is well-trained to recognize the signs of trauma and can help you with tools such as cognitive behavior therapy; in some cases, they may also recommend medication such as antidepressants. It may sound scary to face your fears, but confronting them is perhaps the best way to conquer them.
In addition to professional help, you want to establish habits in your daily life that are healthy and give you back your sense of normalcy. Eating well and exercising can improve your emotional mindset and give you a feeling of strength. Carve out time to pursue the things that fulfill you, which can include spending time with friends, going on a hike or finding a creative outlet such as photography or journaling. Learn stress management techniques such as meditation and deep breathing that can help calm you when you feel anxiety rising up. You need these healthy coping mechanisms because you don’t want to fall into the trap of medicating your feelings with drugs or alcohol, which will only compound your problems.
Finally, it’s important to remember that your trauma was brought on by something painful and damaging, and it’s normal to experience what you are feeling. Give yourself the freedom to work through these emotions without trying to rush the process. Coping with trauma requires patience, but each day that you focus on working through your issues brings you one step closer to healing.
If you or a loved one is struggling with trauma and its effects, don’t wait to seek out help. Contact Casa Palmera, where our caring and highly experienced staff can assist you in coping with trauma and give you the tools you need to overcome it.