Trauma symptoms vary from person to person. They can manifest immediately after an incident or take a number of years to manifest. Trauma symptoms are emotional, psychological and somatic. Trauma symptoms are normal reactions to abnormal events.
Trauma symptoms manifest as a result of our attempts to adapt to cope in any way they know how with overwhelming emotions. Trauma symptoms serve a purpose. They are not random and are usually attempts by a person to protect themselves.
Trauma symptoms occur in almost everybody following a traumatic incident. In some people these symptoms get better naturally over the space of a few weeks and in others they become worse or chronic and result in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Leaving trauma untreated can contribute to associated conditions of: stress, anxiety, depression, self-harm and addiction.
Factors influencing recovery range from stability in upbringing, type of trauma sustained, circumstances in relation to a person’s involvement in the trauma, support network and coping mechanisms.
Psychological Trauma Symptoms
Intrusive thoughts and memories of the traumatic event or when you are reminded of it by a person or place.
- Difficulty concentrating
- Detachment and or dissociation from the events with regard to thoughts and feelings
- Having negative beliefs about yourself in
relation to life in general and the trauma specifically
- Negative world belief
- Shock, denial, or disbelief
- Self-blame in relation to what you might have done differently
Emotional Trauma Symptoms
- Anger, irritability, mood swings
- Strong negative feelings of fear, horror, anger, guilt or shame
- Strong negative feelings of helplessness, guilt, shame and self-blame
- Shock, denial, or disbelief
- Feelings of sadness
- Feeling disconnected from life and others
- Feeling cut off from other people
- Difficulty experiencing positive feelings (inability to feel happiness or love for people close to you)
Somatic Trauma Symptoms
- Anxiety, fear, agitation and edginess
- Physical numbness
- Emotional and somatic numbness
- Insomnia, nightmares or flashback
- Lethargy and Fatigue
- Being startled easily
- Racing heartbeat
- Aches and pains in the body
- Muscle tension in the body
- Anxiety or panic attacks when reminded of the trauma
- Feeling overly stressed
- Looking pale in complexion
- Dizziness or nausea when you remember the trauma
Common Trauma Symptoms
Part of the body's defence to threat is to be hypervigilant for a short while after the trauma has subsided. Your hearing becomes more acute and you are acutely aware of your surroundings. Your sensitivity goes up and you may feel as if you are on guard.
Feeling hyper aroused is also a common physical symptom following a traumatic event. Hyperarousal is also part of the body's defence system during and after trauma. You might feel as if your heart is beating faster and your breathing is shallower. This is the body's fight or flight/stress response. It is designed to help you combat trauma by fighting it, running away from it, freezing, flopping.
It is also common to feel unsafe following a trauma. When you are in a normal everyday situation like shopping in a busy environment you might feel unsafe. One of the difficulties you might experience post-trauma is accepting your inability to control every situation. This is partly why some people with draw and isolate in order to feel safe. You may develop a belief that the world is unsafe. You may also feel unsafe when a situation or place reminds you of the trauma. Common symptoms might include shortness of breath, anxiety, stress and panic attacks.
Unhelpful Trauma Coping Behaviours
The way people cope with trauma differs from person to person. Behavioural changes signify a difficulty integrating a traumatic experience. It is worth keeping a look out for the following behavioural changes which could mean you are more at risk from developing PTSD symptoms.
- Avoiding situations, conversations, people or specific places is common post trauma. This can reinforce feelings and thoughts of the world being unsafe. It also reduces positive reinforcement which gives us self-esteem and enables us to enjoy life.
- Trauma can cause one to experience difficult emotions and feelings. Avoiding these feelings by way of substance misuse can compound these.
Loss of interest
- Losing interest in activities which you once enjoyed can also be experienced after trauma. Feeling disconnected from other people and isolating oneself for protection might mean you are at risk from developing depression.
- Engaging in risky behaviour without worrying about harm to self or others.
- Deliberately harming self or not looking after yourself.
If you have experienced or witnessed a trauma you may experience any of the above symptoms for a period of a few weeks. If they last over three weeks you could be at risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder. Treating a traumatic experience sooner rather than later can help stop the development of PTSD symptoms. If you think that you already have PTSD symptoms getting them treated sooner rather than later can help prevent them from getting worse and mitigate the development of associated conditions.
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