*Trigger warning* I want to offer a trigger warning for this post. The purpose of this post is to discuss the academic side of trauma- what it is and how a person could cope with it. I recognize that some of the topics we discuss might be triggering for those who suffer from trauma-related mental health conditions. Read this post with that in mind. If you read this first paragraph, and decide not to read because the pain of trauma is real for you, know this: I see you. I hear you. Your pain is legitimate. You are loved by me.
What is trauma?
The only real trauma I have ever experienced was the death of my cousin. His loss rocked me to my very core, and small parts of me have never recovered. It is something I plan to address with my therapist very soon. That being said, this is not a topic that is overly familiar to me. It was interesting to do some research and learn more about how it affects people.
With the rise of things like school shootings, I felt like this was an important topic to talk about. It is especially noteworthy on a day like September 11, that is still traumatic for so many.
According to the American Psychological Association, trauma is:
…an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea. While these feelings are normal, some people have difficulty moving on with their lives. Psychologists can help these individuals find constructive ways of managing their emotions.https://www.apa.org/topics/trauma/
PTSD (Post traumatic stress disorder) is the most commonly discussed form of trauma, so that is what I will be discussing in this blog post. PTSD is relatively common.
- Approximately 7 or 8 out of 100 people suffer from PTSD at some point in their lives.
- 8 million adults suffer from this condition in a given year.
- 10 out of 100 women, and 4 out of 100 men, develop it some time in their lives.
Symptoms of PTSD
According to Mayo Clinic’s article on PTSD, the symptoms of PTSD are usually grouped into 4 types of symptoms: intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in thinking and mood, and changes in physical and emotional reactions.
First, here are some intrusive memory symptoms:
- Recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event
- Reliving the traumatic event as if it were happening again (flashbacks)
- Upsetting dreams or nightmares about the traumatic event
- Severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds you of the traumatic event
Next, avoidance symptoms:
- Trying to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event
- Avoiding places, activities or people that remind you of the traumatic event
Negative changes in thinking and mood symptoms:
- Negative thoughts about yourself, other people or the world
- Hopelessness about the future
- Memory problems, including not remembering important aspects of the traumatic event
- Difficulty maintaining close relationships
- Feeling detached from family and friends
- Lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Difficulty experiencing positive emotions
- Feeling emotionally numb
Changes in physical and emotional reaction symptoms:
- Being easily startled or frightened
- Always being on guard for danger
- Self-destructive behavior, such as drinking too much or driving too fast
- Trouble sleeping
- Trouble concentrating
- Irritability, angry outbursts or aggressive behavior
- Overwhelming guilt or shame
Causes of PTSD
It is not completely certain what causes some cases of PTSD, but here are a few situations that might trigger it.
- Stressful experiences, including the amount and severity of trauma you’ve gone through in your life
- Inherited mental health risks, such as a family history of anxiety and depression
- Inherited features of your personality — often called your temperament
- The way your brain regulates the chemicals and hormones your body releases in response to stress
Certain events that can trigger PTSD are:
- Combat exposure
- Childhood physical abuse
- Sexual violence
- Physical assault
- Being threatened with a weapon
- An accident
How can you cope
I recommend exercise for just about every mental health issue. Exercise has so many benefits. It releases feel-good chemicals in your brain that help negate the symptoms of your illness.
First of all, start slow if you are not used to the physical activity. Getting outside and walking around the block three days a week is a great way to start. The activity will make you feel better, as will the fresh air and sunshine.
Second, have patience with yourself. Starting a fitness regimen when you are struggling with a mental health condition can be difficult. Just go at your own pace, and eventually it will become a routine.
Reach out to others for support
Again, with any mental health condition, it is important to talk about it. Find someone that you can trust with your vulnerability, whether it is a parent, partner, friend, or online support group. Tell them how you are feeling and regularly check in to keep them updated.
It might sound strange, but I think there is a lot to be said for just getting thoughts out of your brain and into the universe. Keeping your negative memories and thoughts inside does nothing for you. Get them out to help you release some of the pain associated with holding on to them.
Live a healthy lifestyle
It is really important to get a good nights sleep and avoid alcohol and drugs. A good night’s sleep will help you wake up with a fresh start, and might rid your mind of some stress and anxiety. Avoiding alcohol and drugs is a good way of regaining control of your emotions, since you are no longer relying on these chemicals.
This is the most important of all. Make sure you see a doctor who specializes in trauma so that you can begin a treatment plan. This might include therapy and/or medication. A therapist is going to be able to equip you with coping strategies like meditation, journaling prompts, etc. Medication will help rebalance some neurotransmitters in your brain that are out of whack.
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When all is said and done, those that suffer from PTSD or other trauma-related mental health conditions can live healthy, happy lives. Follow the tips above, and most importantly, just take care of yourself. Your pain is very real, but you deserve a better quality of life. You are absolutely worth it.