Updated: Jun 13
According to 70% of adults in the United States have experienced a traumatic event at least once in their lives, which translates to 223.4 million people. Among them, around 20 are likely to develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In a given year, approximately 13 million people suffer from PTSD. While most individuals do not develop PTSD after experiencing a traumatic event, those who do are likely to have their quality of life altered, significantly impacting their ability to function.
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What is Traumatic Stress?
Stress is a common experience in our lives, and it does not discriminate. Regardless of race, gender, financial circumstances, beliefs, interests, or coping skills, everyone feels stressed at some point. In addition to everyday stress, many individuals also experience traumatic stress in their lifetime. Traumatic stress differs from daily stress in that it is a more severe response to an event or series of events that surpass our ability to cope.
How does Trauma Occur?
Trauma is an experience that can arise from a variety of situations. Childhood abuse and the sudden loss of a job are just a couple of examples of the many events that can lead to traumatic responses. However, it is important to recognize that it is not the event alone that determines whether or not someone will experience trauma symptoms. The experience of trauma encompasses not only a singular event, but also a complex interplay between one's mind, body, and attachment style. In other words, being traumatized is a state, rather than just a one-time occurrence.
Effects of Trauma on the Body?
Polyvagal Theory is a recent development in the field of psychology that helps explain how traumatic stress affects the body. According to this theory, traumatic experiences can trigger the activation of the sympathetic nervous system, which leads to the classic “fight or flight” response. However, in certain situations, the body may also activate the parasympathetic nervous system, leading to a “freeze” response. These responses can have a profound impact on the body, leading to a wide range of physical and emotional symptoms. For example, individuals who experience traumatic stress may develop chronic pain, digestive issues, heart palpitations, and other physical symptoms. Additionally, they may also experience anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. By understanding the effects of traumatic stress on the body, we can develop more effective treatments for those who have experienced trauma.
Effects of Trauma on the Mind?
Traumatic stress has a profound impact on an individual's mental functioning. The experience of trauma can result in a persistent state of hyperarousal or shutting down, which can make it difficult for individuals to concentrate and focus their attention on present-moment experiences. This can lead to decreased mindfulness and an inability to fully engage with the world around them. Additionally, traumatic stress can cause changes in the brain, including alterations in brain structure chemistry, which can further impair cognitive functioning. These changes can lead to issues such as memory problems, difficulty with decision-making, and reduced ability to learn new information. Overall, the impact of traumatic stress on cognitive functioning and mindfulness can be significant, and addressing these issues is crucial to promoting healing and recovery.
Effects of Trauma on Attachment to Self and Others?
Trauma survivors often struggle to form secure attachments with others, as they may have difficulty trusting and opening up to others due to past traumatic experiences. Additionally, trauma can lead to a fragmented sense of self, making it challenging for individuals to develop a stable sense of identity. This can further exacerbate issues with attachment to self and others, leading to complex attachment patterns that may be difficult to overcome without proper support and treatment.
Trauma can be effectively treated through psychotherapy. With the help of psychotherapy, individuals develop resilience, learn new coping skills, and work through feelings that may be holding them back. Trauma-based therapies take a holistic approach to treatment by acknowledging past traumas and identifying any maladaptive coping mechanisms that may have developed as a result of those experiences. By recognizing how past traumas can impact current behaviors and beliefs, individuals can view their symptoms as survival strategies rather than as irrational or problematic behaviors. This to a greater understanding of oneself and a more constructive approach to dealing with the effects of trauma.
Tips to Cope with Trauma
Face your feelings: identify stressful events in the past as stressful.
Be mindful of avoidance: stress does not feel good but if left unchecked it becomes a major problem.
Prioritize self-care: diet, exercise, fun, and rest go a long way to regulating stress.
Connection: talk with trusted family and friends about what you've been through.
Seek help: psychotherapy from a professional or medication can lead to real healing and not just stress management.
In conclusion, traumatic stress is a complex event that surpasses an individual's ability to cope. The effects of traumatic stress can be profound, impacting both physical and mental health, as well as attachment to self and others. However, with proper treatment and coping strategies, individuals can be resilient and move toward healing and recovery. Seeking help through psychotherapy or medication, prioritizing self-care, and connecting to others and resources for health treatment can make a significant difference in the lives of those who have experienced trauma.