Trauma is a complicated and often poorly understood emotional response to a stressful even. While some people may experience short-term impacts from a distressing or stressful traumatic event, others experience trauma symptoms throughout their entire life. Whether you’re dealing with acute trauma or chronic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), there are ways to cope with the effects of trauma and its symptoms.
How Trauma Affects Us
Part of the difficulty in understanding how to deal with trauma symptoms is how varied trauma can be. There are several types of trauma, and everyone will have a different response to a traumatic event. Some examples of trauma include:
Acute trauma – Acute trauma can result from one extreme traumatic incidents, like experiencing a mass shooting, a physical assault, or a catastrophic house fire. An example of acute trauma is the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11, where many of those who experienced the terrorist attack firsthand still deal with the trauma and depression of the event 20 years later, according to NPR.
Chronic trauma – Chronic trauma is when a person experiences a repeated traumatic event for a period of time, from a few weeks to years. Examples include domestic violence/abuse or living through something like war or genocide.
Childhood trauma – A childhood of neglect or abuse can result in myriad traumatic responses. The emerging research into adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) is revealing how widely childhood trauma can impact a person’s entire life. Those with higher exposure to trauma during childhood will have greater instances of heart disease, homelessness, drug & alcohol addiction, obesity, and many more afflictions well into adulthood.
Complex trauma – An individual experiences complex trauma when they’ve undergone numerous and varied traumatic experiences. Acute, childhood, and chronic trauma can create a range of trauma symptoms that may be confusing or contradictory but occur due to various disturbing and stressful experiences over a lifetime. Complex trauma can be challenging to diagnose and understand and may need extensive treatment and support.
What are Common Symptoms of Trauma?
There is a wide range of trauma symptoms. Many people with trauma also experience co-occurring disorders, like depression and anxiety, making isolating the symptoms related to trauma more difficult. However, professionals have identified some common trauma symptoms, including the following:
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Irritability and unpredictable mood swings
- Flashbacks and nightmares
- Emotional overreactions
- Substance abuse and addiction issues
- Numbness and disassociation
- Poor sleep, inability to sleep, or difficulty waking up
Some people who experience trauma experience all of the above symptoms, and others who have trauma will deal with none.
How to Cope with Common Trauma Symptoms
Trauma recovery can take weeks or years, and progress isn’t linear. The traumatized person might feel like they have made great progress in healing from the trauma, only for symptoms to re-emerge years later. This is a natural part of the recovery process. Finding a recovery program that works for their specific needs and symptoms will make their recovery easier and more effective. Many therapists will suggest a “recovery toolbox” to address symptoms as they arise. Here are just some of the many ways to deal with trauma-related symptoms.
Those who experience trauma often focus on other things besides their own wellness. Family, partners, children, careers, and other obligations are often prioritized over their own needs. This can happen because many people who experience trauma are taught that their needs are unimportant or possibly because self-reflection for the traumatized person can be painful. No matter the reason, people with trauma symptoms often neglect their needs to care for everything and everyone else around them.
Breaking this cycle involves deliberate and intentional self-care. Self-care will look different for everybody but can include regular exercise routines, cooking healthy and nutritious meals, journaling, and engaging in supportive and therapeutic communities. It also includes getting help for drug or alcohol addiction, healing from codependent relationships, and avoiding toxic people and situations. Learning that their needs matter is often vital for somebody who has experienced trauma and is coping with its symptoms.
Find a Supportive Community
Trauma can be very isolating. Many are afraid to open up about their experiences for fear of judgment or people downplaying or invalidating their pain. Finding a strong, supportive community to discuss or work through issues can be extremely helpful. A supportive community can look like trauma recovery groups, a trusted friend or family member, or a supportive spiritual leader. Thanks to the internet, there are many opportunities to find online resources and support for trauma and mental health support.
Therapy is becoming more common and widely accepted than ever before. It’s often discussed openly on social media and no longer carries the stigma that it used to. However, those with trauma symptoms are often hesitant to seek out therapy. Many with trauma don’t even recognize that their symptoms stem from traumatic events. Their anxiety, nightmares, and physical trauma symptoms may not even register as trauma-related.
If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms that we discussed previously, working with a qualified mental health professional will help you determine if they are, in fact, trauma responses and will help you create a game plan for how to work towards healing and recovery. Many trauma-specific therapies can help with overcoming trauma, like EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Therapy) or CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy).
Trauma is complicated and affects everyone differently. The experience of trauma is varied, and so are the treatment options. Practicing self-care, finding a supportive community, and seeking professional help are significant first steps in working through acute, chronic, or complex trauma. Contact Confidential Recovery today if you’re in the San Diego area and would like to speak to a trained mental health professional. If you’re elsewhere in the United States, contact the NAMI mental health helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI.
About the Author
Scott H. Silverman is a high-profile expert on addiction and recovery, making frequent public and media appearances for the last 40 years. He is the author of The Opioid Epidemic, and the Founder and CEO of Confidential Recovery, a San Diego substance abuse treatment center that specializes in helping Veterans and First Responders get and stay sober.