What is Trauma?

By: Cornerstone

Have you ever experienced an event that changed your life, and it still affects your well-being or day-to-day activities? It is likely that you might have experienced trauma. Trauma is an emotional response to the exposure of actual or perceived death, serious injury or sexual violence. Examples of traumatic events might include car accidents, accidental deaths, school shootings, physical or sexual assaults, natural disasters, life-threatening fires, kidnappings or exposure to war and combat.

Traumatic events may cause extreme levels of stress to an individual, and over time it has the ability to affect the way that someone might function or begin to cope with stressful situations. The important thing to remember is that no one is alone in their trauma, in fact, about six out of ten men and five out of ten women experience at least one traumatic event in their lifetime.

Individuals who experience trauma might exhibit various symptoms while for others it might be more challenging to identify. “Some people might not realize that they have experienced trauma at all, so one of the ways to identify your trauma is by addressing the event and how it has impacted you,” says Venee Hummel, Assistant Director of Cohen Military Family Clinic at Centerstone. “These events might be something that directly happens to a person, something that is witnessed, something that is learned about that impacted loved ones or by experiencing repeated exposure to traumatic events due to occupation.”

Some of the symptoms that traumatic experiences might cause are recurring memories or nightmares, emotional or physical reactions, avoidance, lack of interest in hobbies or social interaction, mood swings, risky behaviors, trouble sleeping, or difficulty concentrating. If these symptoms persist for more than one month, this may be indicative of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) present, which may impact an individual’s ability to perform daily functions.

Here are some tips to consider when helping yourself or your loved ones cope with trauma:

  • Offer support. Whether an individual or a loved one experienced the trauma, it is best to determine what kind of support would best suit them. Communicate what and how the needs might be met. Sometimes that might look like giving the individual space or offering a safe space to listen.
  • Share education. Symptoms of trauma might look different for each individual. Try to learn the symptoms and triggers that go alongside trauma and PTSD. Share your knowledge with loved ones and community members. Sharing educational insight and pulling from experiences may encourage others to be more open about their own traumatic experiences. Learn to address stigmas with others that aren’t productive to conversations surrounding trauma.
  • Seek treatment. “Sometimes it takes a while for self-awareness to catch up to us; it is not uncommon to be unaware of how trauma has started to shape our day-to-day functioning. Even if months or years have passed since the trauma(s), reach out,” says Hummel. Various methods of treatment that are commonly used for trauma or PTSD symptoms include specialized forms of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).

Traumatic experiences are life-altering, but there are resources available to help. Remember, you are worth it.

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