Going through very stressful, frightening or distressing events is sometimes called trauma. A traumatic event could be something that happened to you, or something you saw happen to someone else.
Emotional and psychological trauma can be caused by:
- One-time events, such as an accident, injury, or a violent attack, especially if it was unexpected or happened in childhood.
- Ongoing, relentless stress, such as living in a crime-ridden neighborhood, battling a life-threatening illness or experiencing traumatic events that occur repeatedly, such as bullying, domestic violence, or childhood neglect.
- Commonly overlooked causes, such as surgery, the sudden death of someone close, the breakup of a significant relationship, or a humiliating or deeply disappointing experience, especially if someone was deliberately cruel.
It’s normal to have upsetting memories, feel on edge, or have trouble sleeping after this type of event. At first, it may be hard to do normal daily activities, like go to work, go to school, or spend time with people you care about. Some people start to feel better after a few weeks but some still have symptoms after a few months. Symptoms of trauma can be both psychological and physical.
Emotional and psychological symptoms:
- Shock, denial, or disbelief.
- Confusion, difficulty concentrating.
- Anger, irritability, mood swings.
- Anxiety and fear.
- Guilt, shame, self-blame.
- Withdrawing from others.
- Feeling sad or hopeless.
- Feeling disconnected or numb.
- Insomnia or nightmares.
- Being startled easily.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Racing heartbeat.
- Edginess and agitation.
- Aches and pains.
- Muscle tension.
Trauma can change key structures of the brain, the amygdala, hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. Along with changes in brain structure, there are also changes in the brain's neurochemistry. Hormones like adrenaline and cortisol increase.
Changes to the body can also occur including body aches, body inflammation, sleep disturbances, gastrointestinal issues, and high blood pressure.
Treatment can help even if your trauma happened years ago. I offer several treatments for trauma:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) - After a trauma, it’s common to have negative thoughts — like thinking what happened is your fault or that the world is very dangerous. CBT helps you learn to identify and change these thoughts. Changing how you think about the trauma can help change how you feel.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) - People with trauma react negatively to the memory of their traumas. EMDR can help you process these upsetting memories, thoughts, and feelings. You’ll focus on specific sounds or movements while you talk about the trauma. This helps your brain work through the traumatic memories. Over time, you can change how you react to memories of your trauma.
Exposure Therapy - People with trauma often try to avoid things that remind them of the trauma. This can help
you feel better in the moment, but in the long term it can keep you from recovering
During Exposure Therapy, you gradually expose yourself to the thoughts, feelings, and situations that you’ve been avoiding. For example, let’s say you avoid driving because it reminds you of an accident. At first, you might just sit in the car and practice staying calm with breathing exercises. Gradually, you’ll work towards driving without being upset by memories of your trauma.
Cognitive and Trauma assessments for assessing severity of symptoms and monitoring brain functioning.