Research suggests that the statistics around traumatic stress are profoundly high, particularly in the US, where more than two -hundred and twenty-three million people have experienced a traumatic event at some stage of their lives.
Further studies show that up to ninety percent of people suffering from poor mental health have all experienced some form of psychological trauma.
Most people exposed to a disturbing event or chronic stress often develop symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can manifest days, weeks or months after a traumatic event has occurred.
Whether trauma survivors develop PTSD or not, emotional trauma can leave its mark in countless ways.
What happens to the body during traumatic events?
During a traumatic event, the body goes into fight or flight mode to protect us against further harm.
The adrenaline in our bodies begins to pump, and we may feel increased levels of alertness, experiencing higher energy levels than we usually would.
Many people may even dissociate from the traumatic event entirely.
When people are in emotional distress, perhaps they have just gotten attacked, or their loved one has become seriously ill.
Any associated traumatic memories become ”stuck” in the body and get stored in places like the brain or the central nervous system.
Trapped trauma can produce both mental and physical symptoms and must be addressed by a mental health professional to help people move forward with their lives.
Moreover, trapped trauma is one of the long-term effects of psychological trauma.
What is emotional trauma?
Emotional trauma can be challenging to define since each of us processes situations differently. One person may deem something as traumatic; another may think of it as a one-off stressful event and experience less difficulty moving on.
However, unlike everyday life challenges, traumatic events are usually sudden and unpredictable and involve life-threatening potentialities such as a severe physical injury or death.
Perhaps the most crucial element of psychological trauma is that it often threatens a person’s sense of safety in the world and creates the belief that disaster could strike at any time.
What gets considered a traumatic event?
Mental health professionals have long spoken about the implications of emotional trauma and have identified several traumatic events that fit into the trauma category.
Although there may be many others, there are several traumatic events that trigger a trauma response in people, such as:
- Parental loss in childhood
- Military combat experiences
- Natural disasters
- The sudden loss of a loved one
- Physical violence
- Auto accidents
- Sexual assault
- Domestic violence
People who have survived a traumatic event or a series of traumatic events often get referred to as ‘’trauma survivors.’’
The ‘‘survivor” label fits people in this cohort, who often develop a series of mental health challenges after posttraumatic stress.
Long-term effects of emotional trauma
The stress response produced in the body during the traumatic event has created myriad physical and mental health problems.
Not only are trauma survivors at risk of mental health disorders such as posttraumatic stress disorder, but they are also at risk of developing other mental health conditions such as:
- Acute stress disorder
- Substance abuse
- Sleep problems and sleep disorders
- Alcohol abuse
- Anxiety disorder
- Chronic illnesses
- Emotional dysregulation
- Dissociative disorders
- Panic attacks
Other mental health challenges
Some research posits other mental health implications around the effects of emotional trauma.
Many people who have survived trauma develop phobias, self-harm, experience difficult emotions, have problems in their personal relationships, develop eating disorders and substance use disorders.
Whether someone has experienced childhood trauma or endured a series of chronic traumatic events such as domestic violence or exposure to war and crime, the trauma symptoms people experience are harrowing.
Effects of trauma
The effects of trauma get viewed in a paradigm of unfortunate circumstances.
For instance, there’s the traumatic event (i.e. losing a loved one suddenly), the effects of trauma (trauma disorders that arise from a traumatic event), and lastly, the coping mechanisms people use to cope with the debilitating symptoms.
The above paradigm is a snapshot of how trauma affects people and the repeated cycle because of a traumatic event.
Symptoms of trauma
Traumatic events impact people in a multitude of ways.
Studies on psychological trauma have compartmentalized trauma into four categories, cognitive, behavioural, physical, and psychological.
- Loss of memory and concentration functioning
- Visual images related to the traumatic event
- Intrusive thoughts of the event that may come on suddenly
- Mood swings
- Lack of interest in activities that were once enjoyed
- Avoidance of activities that may trigger memories of the event
- Withdrawal and social isolation
- Easily startled
- Extreme fatigue and exhaustion
- Vague bodily symptoms such as aches and pains
- Extreme alertness and always on the watch for signs of danger or threat to life
- Sexual dysfunction
- Chronic muscle pains
- Changes in sleeping and eating patterns
- Emotional numbing
- Detachment from other people and emotions
- Panic attacks
- Obsessive and compulsive behaviors
- Extreme fear
Trauma impacts people to such a degree that psychological and physical symptoms can affect a person’s normal reactions and emotional responses.
Mental disorders such as those mentioned above can be so harmful that people often use substances or adopt other risky behaviours to cope.
A traumatic experience can produce far-reaching psychological and physical consequences ranging from anxiety disorders to difficulty falling asleep.
Those with repeated exposure to traumatic events are likely to be the most impacted, mainly long-term.
Inherently, there is likely to be more traumatic memory stored in chronic trauma, which means the individual gets expected to experience debilitating symptoms for far longer.
Long-lasting repetitive events
Suppose a person’s loved one is in the hospital’s intensive care over a long period; the physical responses and psychological implications are likely to be more profound in comparison to a one-off event.
In this instance, trauma affects people differently and often creeps upon them in unexpected ways.
In the face of a traumatic experience, many people exhibit resilient responses that continue long after the traumatic event, while others are profoundly overwhelmed and find it impossible to cope.
Substance use disorders: the risk factors
Many people with PTSD symptoms and other trauma responses develop a substance use disorder.
Substances such as drugs and alcohol help numb the pain and debilitating symptoms associated with a traumatic event.
Outright destructive behaviors
People who have experienced traumatic stress, whether from adverse childhood experiences or the loss of a loved one, often seek solace in the numbing effects of alcohol and drugs.
Research shows that up to two-thirds of people who live with posttraumatic stress disorder also battle a substance addiction.
Moreover, over seventy percent of adolescents in substance abuse treatments today have a history of traumatic exposure.
Substance use disorders seriously impact a person’s mental and physical health and can wreck a significant relationship if the addict does not get their substance addiction under control.
Mental health services
Fortunately, help is available for those who have experienced trauma and for those who have endured traumatic events in their lives.
Mental health services have widened the gap on trauma, and as a result, many offer pioneering trauma treatments that can help treat the underlying roots of trauma and the symptoms.
Whether someone requires treatment for childhood trauma or if a war veteran needs assistance in coping with PTSD symptoms, trauma treatments are invaluable.
Therapies such as Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy are highly effective trauma treatments that help to re-frame any negative thoughts, beliefs, and perceptions about a traumatic event.
Exposure therapies are psychological treatments developed to help people face their fears.
When people develop phobias over something, they avoid the feared places, objects, situations, or activities.
Exposure therapy embodies the facing of fears and involves encouraging patients to repeatedly face a situation or object that impacts their daily life and causes them anxiety.
Traumatic events produce many long-term implications for sufferers, and for those experiencing debilitating symptoms, it’s imperative they speak to a mental health professional about treatment.
No one should have to live with the mental and physical symptoms of trauma. On the contrary, people deserve to live a life free from the clutches of trauma and poor mental health.
Traumatic memories wreak havoc on the body and the nervous system, putting people into a permanent stress response state, leaving them at risk of substance abuse.
When trauma occurs, and people find it challenging to cope, it is vital they get help and support from a mental health professional sooner rather than later to prevent any long-lasting effects from taking hold.
At Camino Recovery, we specialise in treating all types of trauma by addressing the root cause of mental health disorders and substance addiction.
Please speak to one of our specialists today who can help you move forward, allowing you to live a life free from the clutches of trauma and addiction.