woman hiding under table ptsd

Mental Health: What is Trauma?

Experiencing trauma can happen at any age and be caused by various situations we find to be stressful, frightening, life-threatening or distressing. Two people can be involved in an experience, one may develop psychological trauma, and the other may not have any lasting changes to their wellbeing. We all react differently, and what may be traumatic for one might have little impact on another.

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You don’t have to be the person to experience the event. You can be a witness to a traumatic event and suffer from trauma. You can replay the event over and over again in your head like a stuck record, or you experience flashbacks upon hearing a noise to seeing or smelling something that reminds you of that incident.

The effects of trauma on the psyche can become apparent many years after the event; they don’t have to be straight after. This can be the case in childhood trauma.

What Can Cause Trauma?

what is trauma, woman on a chair looking scared

Trauma is very individual, and two people will experience it differently; there is no specific thing that will cause trauma for everyone, although certain catastrophes such as terrorism, ecological disasters and wars will impact many but not all.

If you have felt frightened, under threat or even rejected, it can cause you to experience trauma. Even a serious illness can bring this about; see a personal story here.

If you have experienced childhood trauma, you may have developed mental health issues as an adult, which can exacerbate the symptoms. Therapy is highly recommended for this and all other traumatic incidences. There is also an organisation called HAVOCA who offer support for those who have been abused in childhood.

What Happens Mentally and Physically from Trauma?

Our bodies and minds go through natural responses when experiencing a traumatic event, and these are mainly focused on the fight, freeze and flight response. When we become stressed, cortisol is released, and this is called the stress hormone. It happens during the event, and cortisol is also released when experiencing flashbacks and panic attacks after the event.

We can’t control how we react; it is how the body and mind respond to a dangerous situation.

Physical Effects

  • raised blood pressure
  • increased heart rate
  • you will sweat more
  • your digestion slows
  • you may need to pee or poo
  • you freeze and are unable to move
  • You may automatically run or try to hide

Mental Effects

  • You may flop, which means you agree to things without airing a view.
  • You may want to fight.
  • You may fawn and try to please the one trying to do you harm.

After The Event

  • Flashbacks, where the event is relieved as though it is happening right now.
  • Panic Attacks
  • Disassociation is where we mentally remove ourselves from the event and go numb
  • Sleep problems from fear of having nightmares to feeling unsafe.
  • Anxiety also can be called hyperarousal, where you can not relax and are on high alert.
  • Your confidence may diminish.
  • Fatigue and lethargy.
  • Self-harm is often used as a coping mechanism.
  • You may have suicidal feelings (to find your countries suicide helpline, visit Wikipedia)
  • You may start drinking too much or taking drugs.
  • Emotional dysregulation, either feeling too much or too little.
  • Somatisation, whereby pain is felt although there is no injury or affliction

If any of these symptoms apply to you, please visit your doctor as you may be experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder or depression.

Will Trauma Cause Mental Health Problems?

Experiencing trauma does not mean you will develop a mental illness, although it can lead to PTSD, depression and anxiety.

Sometimes it just takes time to recover; however, many people will need talking therapies to help move them forward from the traumatic event. This could be counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy, or psychoanalytic therapy would be the best option if it stems from childhood.

If you wish to seek out cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), you can do so from the comfort of your own home through [AF] Online Therapy; prices start at about £23.00 per week.

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