According to the National Council for Behavioral Health, approximately 70% of Americans over 18 have experienced trauma in their lifetime. That is well over 200 million people.
This number will be even higher now that the country has lived through a pandemic. I am defining a traumatic event equivalent to a horrific traffic accident, a natural disaster, the loss of a loved one, prolonged abuse, violence – domestic or war, or severe illness. However, this list is not exhaustive.
What happens when trauma occurs?
What exactly happens, though, when you live through a traumatic event? Your body goes into defense mode, creating the stress response, which results in various symptoms, both physical and mental. You will experience your emotions more intensely and likely behave differently as a result of the trauma.
The body’s stress response includes physical symptoms such as a spike in blood pressure, an increase in sweating and heart rate, as well as a dip in appetite. It is entirely normal, and it’s down to evolution.
Your body has evolved to respond this way to effectively cope with an emergency, whether it’s to stand and fight or to run away as fast as humanly possible. Following a traumatic event, you may experience denial or shock. You may stew in that response for days or even longer before you go through a range of emotions before you heal.
However, a lot of people don’t heal. That lack of healing can result in a severe impact on your overall health and well-being.
Post-traumatic stress disorder can leave people feeling anxious long after they experience trauma, whether it results in a physical injury or not. Symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, avoidance of anything to do with the trauma, panic attacks, low-level concentration, sleep issues, depression, anger, and substance abuse.
If you feel down or sad, that is not necessarily depression. We all feel like that from time to time, but depression is a lasting experience of intense negative emotions such as hopelessness, anxiety, helplessness, and negativity. Importantly, it’s key to remember that mental health issues like depression and PTSD don’t only impact your mental health. There are physical symptoms related to mental health, as well.
Moreover, both the physical and mental effects of trauma may lead you to practice bad habits that negatively contribute to a lack of well-being.
• Your well-being matters, and by taking steps to look after yourself correctly, you can protect your well-being from the effects of trauma. By eating well, avoiding substance abuse, and exercises, you can reduce the stress and pressure you feel, making mental health issues more comfortable to manage.
• If you can contact a close family member or friend to discuss your trauma.
You don’t want to cause them distress by sharing your trauma, but you must have people in your life you can speak to as you try to improve your well-being and recover from trauma. It is unnecessary to have to discuss the event itself, but you can discuss the feelings you have because of the event.
• Finally, if you know you are coping with the traumatic effects impacting your daily life and contributing to mental health issues, you should seek professional help.
When your performance is affected, you are abusing substances, or struggling to complete daily tasks, the time to seek help is now. If you don’t have anyone in your life to talk to and have experienced symptoms for longer than six weeks, you should seek professional help. Your first port of call is your primary care physician, who can move things forward from there.