Trauma is the negative and sometimes debilitating emotional response we experience after a stressful event. Trauma causes an intense emotional response of fear, helplessness or horror. It can cause emotional, physical and spiritual exhaustion and impairment.
Trauma can be classified as primary or secondary. Primary trauma occurs when someone experiences a terrible event like a tornado, plane crash, school shooting, car accident, death of a loved one, assault, abuse or any negative event with significant impact. Secondary trauma is the negative and sometimes debilitating emotional response we experience when affected by the losses of others (e.g. while watching a news story about a plane crash). In either case, trauma can be devastating, and people often underestimate the very real effects of intense stress and shock.
All traumatic events require an adjustment period to return to everyday life. However, for some, trauma can be harder to shake. These individuals may develop what is known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Symptoms of Trauma and PTSD
- Intrusive thoughts, mental images or disturbing dreams about the traumatic event
- Avoiding anything that is associated with the traumatic event
- Heightened alertness paired with an inability to concentrate
- Disruption of daily life, inability to complete common tasks
- Constant feelings of worry or fear
- Easily startled
- Panic attacks
- Inability to enjoy activities that were once pleasureable
- Rage, extreme irritability and intense agitation
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
If there are ongoing, debilitating consequences resulting from any crisis in your life, talk with someone. It may be helpful to discuss how well you are coping with recent events with a mental health professional. Seek help early, before trauma causes emotional or physical burnout. Complications can result from untreated PTSD, including: generalized anxiety disorder, panic attacks, major depression, substance abuse and problems with health, career and relationships. According to research, a person who has been traumatized before is more likely to develop PTSD after a second trauma. People may have post-traumatic stress from a previous event, but they may not be aware of it until after a new trauma occurs.
There are many methods for treating PTSD and helping individuals cope with stress. The goal of treatment is to reduce the emotional and physical symptoms of the trauma, to improve daily functioning and to help individuals cope with the traumatic event that triggered the disorder.