Life is full of events that put you to the test — incidents that challenge your understanding of the world around you, shake your confidence, erode your sense of safety, or leave you feeling isolated and alone.
Whether it’s a serious accident, a natural disaster, violence, the death of a loved one, or something else, traumatic experiences may occur out of nowhere or they may be an enduring part of your life.
As mental health experts who specialize in trauma treatment, the team at EXIS Recovery knows that the world can feel unpredictable and unsafe after a traumatic event. Let’s explore how these persistent feelings can impact your daily life, and what you can do about it.
The early effects of trauma
Whether it’s inflicted by a one-time event, multiple occurrences, or a long-lasting repetitive experience, trauma affects everyone differently.
Most people have strong feelings of anger, fear, guilt, sadness, or grief in the days and weeks following trauma. Some people start to feel better as they make sense of what happened to them, while others feel overwhelmed or trapped by intense emotions that won’t subside.
When trauma-related emotions are intense and persistent — and if the support of family and friends is insufficient or nonexistent — many people begin to feel helpless, as if they’re stuck on a treadmill with no way to get off.
As distressing memories, thoughts, and emotions continue to invade and interrupt everyday life, they can strain mental health and have a significant effect on virtually every aspect of life.
Common responses to trauma
It’s not uncommon for people who feel trapped in the aftermath of trauma to develop mental health problems like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety.
People who are dealing with trauma may also have trouble sleeping, perform poorly at work, pull away from family and friends, and reach for drugs or alcohol. When it comes to any one of these aftereffects, the impact of trauma can be subtle, insidious, or outright destructive.
Anger, grief, despair, helplessness, shame, numbness, and loneliness are common emotional reactions to trauma. When these emotions don’t improve over time, they often lead to another uncomfortable feeling: a total lack of control.
Traumatized people who live in a state of emotional “dysregulation” often look for ways to regain emotional control. Self-medication (substance abuse) is one of the most frequent control strategies. Disordered eating, gambling, overworking, and repression or denial of emotions are other common strategies.
Daily stress levels
Living in the aftermath of trauma can be incredibly stressful, and living in a state of perpetual stress can cause physiological reactions that give rise to a variety of physical symptoms.
Known collectively as somatic symptoms, the physical symptoms and dysfunctions that express emotional distress can affect almost any system in your body, ranging from your cardiovascular and respiratory systems to your neurological and gastrointestinal systems.
Hyperarousal, one of the most common physical symptoms of trauma, is the body’s way of staying prepared for action in the face of emotional distress. Also known as hypervigilance, it’s characterized by chronic sleep disturbances, muscle tension, and a lower threshold for startle responses.
Trauma can change your perspective and outlook on many levels. For most people, an integral part of the post-traumatic experience is realizing they feel different from others. Many people also question the necessity and value of the mundane activities that drive normal routines.
Along with the emotional upheaval and unrelenting stress caused by trauma, this new sense of self-awareness can affect the way a person behaves with family and friends and in normal, everyday situations.
Some people feel alienated, irritable, or unrelatable when they spend time with others, and simply find it easier to withdraw from their loved ones and stop attending social activities. Many people also find it difficult to jump back into a “normal” routine, which can have a real impact both at work and at home.
Yes, you can overcome trauma
While it’s helpful to understand what a common trauma response may look like, it’s important to recognize that trauma is a highly individual experience that prompts wide-ranging reactions.
It’s also important to realize that no reaction is wrong, even if it’s unhealthy; every reaction to trauma qualifies as a normal response to abnormal circumstances.
Even so, you have the power to move past your trauma and build a new, healthier future — one where you’re in full control of your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. As always, we’re here to help.
To learn more about our trauma treatment services at EXIS Recovery in West Los Angeles, call 424-244-3513 today. Or if you prefer, simply click here to schedule an appointment with one of our trusted mental health experts any time.