According to the National Council For Behavioral Health, approximately 70% of Americans (over the age of 18) have experienced trauma in their lifetime (https://www.thenationalcouncil.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Trauma-infographic.pdf?daf=375ateTbd56). That is well over 200 million people. One could argue that this number will be even higher now that the country has lived through a pandemic.
A traumatic event can be defined as a road traffic accident, a natural disaster, the death of a loved one, prolonged abuse, violence, or serious illness. Though, this list is not exhaustive.
What exactly happens, though, when you live through a traumatic event?
Your body goes into defense mode, creating the stress response which results in a variety of 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.
This is completely 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 and/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 serious impact on your overall health and wellbeing.
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, poor 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 wellbeing.
• Your wellbeing matters and by taking steps to look after yourself properly you can protect your wellbeing from the effects of trauma. By eating well, avoiding substances, and exercises, you can reduce the stress and pressure you’re feeling which will make mental health issues easier to manage.
• If you can, reach out to a close friend or family member to discuss your trauma. You don’t want to cause them distress by sharing your trauma, but it’s important that you have people in your life you can speak to as you try to improve your wellbeing and recover from trauma. You don’t necessarily have to discuss the event itself, but you can discuss the feelings you have because of the event.
• Finally, if you know you are dealing with the effects of trauma and you feel impacting your daily life and contributing to mental health issues, then you should seek professional help. If you don’t have anyone in your life to talk to about what you’re going through, if you have experienced symptoms for longer than six weeks, if someone is encouraging you to seek help, or your performance is affected, you are abusing substances, or struggling to complete daily tasks, then the time to seek help is now. Your first port of call is your primary care physician who can move things forward from there.