What is Trauma?
Trauma is anything that deeply impacts an individual emotionally and affects the ability to cope. It can be due to any physical or emotional harm such as abuse, neglect injury, or a life-threatening event.(1)
Trauma can lead to a wide range of symptoms including depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
A person with trauma may feel a range of emotions immediately after the event and also in long term. There may be a feeling of overwhelm, shock, or difficulty in processing experiences. Trauma can have a long-term effect on an individual’s well-being. If the symptoms do not get better or decrease in severity it may be an indication that trauma has developed into post-traumatic stress disorder.
Types of Trauma
There are several types of trauma:
- Acute Trauma: This results from a single stressful or dangerous event such as an accident, natural disaster, or physical assault.
- Chronic Trauma: This can result from repeated or prolonged exposure to the event including repeated physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.
- Complex Trauma: This occurs due to exposure to multiple or interrelated traumatic events mostly in childhood including repeated physical, emotional, and sexual abuse.
- Developmental Trauma: This is the trauma experienced during childhood that affects normal development and causes a disruption of a healthy sense of self.
- Psychological Trauma: This is the emotional injury resulting from traumatic events such as PTSD.
- Vicarious Trauma: This is an indirect trauma experienced through the traumatic experience of others.
- Secondary Trauma: It is trauma experienced as a result of helping or supporting someone who has experienced trauma. It is experienced by first responders and mental health professionals.
Symptoms of Trauma
The symptoms of trauma may range from mild to severe. There are many factors that may determine how a traumatic event may affect an individual. These include:(2)
- Characteristic of trauma
- Presence of other mental conditions
- Previous exposure to traumatic events
- Type and characteristic of the event
- The background or the approach of an individual in handling emotions
Emotional responses to trauma include:
- Difficulty in concentration
Physical responses to trauma include:(3)
- Racing heart
- Digestive symptoms
- Feeling jumpy
People with trauma may have a feeling of a constant state of alertness of mind making it difficult for them to sleep.
Treatment for Trauma
There are several treatment options that can be helpful for people with trauma to cope with their symptoms and these include:
Therapy is the first option for the treatment of trauma. Here the individual works with a therapist specialized in dealing with people with trauma.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy
This therapy helps people change their thought patterns to influence their behavior or emotions. There is evidence supporting cognitive behavior therapy as the most effective approach for post-traumatic stress disorder.(4)
Eye Movement Desensitization And Reprocessing
This is a common trauma therapy that involves reliving specific traumatic experiences while the therapist directs the individual’s eye movements. It aims to help people in processing and integrating traumatic memories. Several trials have demonstrated eye movement desensitization and reprocessing as effective treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder.(5)
Therapists use somatic and body-based techniques to help the mind and body relax. These therapies include:
- Somatic Experiencing: It involves a therapist helping a person to relive traumatic memories in a safe place
- Sensorimotor Psychotherapy: In this therapy, psychotherapy is combined with body-based techniques to traumatic memories into a source of strength.
- Acupoint Stimulation: In this, the practitioner applies pressure points on the body to induce a state of relaxation.
- Touch Therapies: These therapies include Reiki, healing touch, and therapeutic touch therapy.
More data is needed on somatic therapies to get to know how they work.
It is not possible for the medications alone to treat trauma symptoms. They can be helpful to a person in managing symptoms of anxiety, depression, and sleep disturbance.
Self-care techniques can help people cope with emotional, psychological, and physical symptoms.
Self-care techniques include:
- Exercising regularly: Trauma is known to activate the fight-or-flight response and exercise can be helpful in lowering some of these effects. Research shows that aerobic exercise can be effective for people with post-traumatic stress disorder.(6)
- Mindfulness: Breathing and mindfulness-based exercises can be helpful in stopping the reliving of traumatic events. Studies show mindfulness-based treatment to be a promising option for post-traumatic stress disorder.(7)
- Connecting With Others: A common symptom of trauma is withdrawing from others. It is important to stay connected with friends and family and let the mind out with them. Staying in touch with people can be helpful in preventing trauma from becoming post-traumatic stress disorder.(8)
- Balanced Lifestyle: A person with trauma needs to have a lifestyle that is balanced having proper relaxation and sleep time. The person needs to take a balanced diet and avoid alcohol and drugs. This relieves stress.
Most people experience traumatic events at some point in their life. Most recover from these symptoms in a short span of time. If someone has trouble coming out from them, it’s best to seek help. With the help of therapy and self-care techniques, there can be an improvement in the symptoms that can further improve the quality of life.