Emotional & Psychological Trauma
It can take awhile to feel safe again, with these strategies and support, you can speed up your journey to recovery
By: Melissa Tijerino
Understanding Emotional & Psychological Trauma
Emotional or Psychological Trauma is the result of excessive damage to the brain after living through extremely traumatic & frightening events that may cause individuals to lose their sense of security, everyday life challenges and coping normally after the events
While each person that goes through traumatic life experiences can react differently, it may leave you struggling with upsetting emotions, memories, and anxiety that won’t go away
Often, trauma involves life threatening situations, but any situation that makes one feel alone, overwhelmed and isolated can result in trauma, even if it doesn’t involve any physical harm
Keep in mind that it’s not the objective facts of the events alone that determine whether or not it’s traumatic, it’s also the subjective emotional experience of the event. Often, the more helplessness one feels, the more likely it is that an individual will be traumatized
The ability to recognize Psychological and Emotional trauma is the first step to your healing process. Thanks to the ability of today’s technology, we are now able to observe the brain in action with the help of MRI’s and CT scans of the brain. These brain scans have actually confirmed that trauma actually changes the structure and function of the brain
Fortunately, there are treatments that are known to help relieve some of the symptoms of emotional trauma
What are the Causes?
Potentially traumatic events can be caused by one occasion alone or from continuous, restless stresses. Potentially traumatic events are more prone to leaving that individual with longer-lasting emotional and psychological trauma such as:
One time events: Such as an accident, injury or violent attack that the individual wasn’t prepared for, especially if this happened during their childhood
Repetitive, relentless stress: Such as living in a neighborhood where there’s high volumes of crime, battling a life-threatening disease, or experiencing repetitive traumatic events such as bullying, domestic violence or childhood neglect
Some overlooked causes: Any surgeries, (especially in the first 3 years of life), the sudden death of a close loved one, a breakup of a significant relationship, or any humiliating experience by someone who was deliberately being cruel
Childhood Trauma + Risks
Many people go for years living with symptoms of Psychological & Emotional trauma as their lives get busier. But this type of trauma can happen to anyone, more so if you’re already under a heavy stress load, have suffered a series of losses and especially if the earlier trauma happened during your childhood.
Childhood trauma can be classified as anything that disrupts a child's sense of safety which includes:
Unsafe & unstable environment
Divorce or being removed from a parents home
Life Threatening Illness
Intrusive medical procedures (especially in the first 3 years of life)
Physical, sexual, or verbal abuse
Experiencing trauma in early childhood can result in severe, life long effects. If this is not healed properly, a sense of fear and helplessness can carry over into adulthood.
Symptoms of Psychological Trauma
Everyone reacts differently to trauma, there’s actually a broad range of psychological and emotional trauma. There’s no right or wrong way to feel, think or respond to the reactions of yourself and others.
Remember your response is a completely normal reaction to abnormal events that have occurred
Here are a few symptoms of untreated Psychological & Emotional Trauma:
Constant shock, denial or disbelief
Feeling hopeless, depressed or shame
Excessive anxiety or impulsive behaviors
Withdrawing or constantly arguing with loved ones
Loss of former beliefs
Anger, irritability and mood swings
Healing is a process, there’s no one stop shop or person that will be able to help you heal overnight. Trauma symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to a few months, gradually fading as you begin to process the unsettling event.
You may feel as if you’re feeling better, but there still might be triggers from time to time that bring back painful memories and emotions - for example, when there’s a specific date that comes around that the event took place that reminds you of the trauma
If you feel like your psychological trauma has not gotten better or has gotten worse, you may be experiencing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD is when your nervous system gets “stuck” and you remain in a constant psychological shock, unable to process or make sense of your emotions
If you’ve been through an event that resulted in losing a loved one to death, as a survivor you’re left to cope with the loss. Like anyone who’s lost a loved one, it’s important to go through the grieving process
Let’s go over some tips that will help you cope with a sense of grief, heal from the trauma, and ultimately, move on with life
Trauma ultimately disrupts your body’s natural equilibrium, leaving you stuck in a state of hyperarousal and fear. Exercising and overall constantly keeping yourself active will burn off adrenaline and release endorphins and repair your nervous system
Exercise for 15-30 minutes or more on most days. Or to make it a little easier, having little 5 minute spurts throughout the day will still do wonders! Moving your legs, arms, or even dancing are great ways to stay active and keep your mind occupied throughout the day!
Take a moment to reflect, be present in the moment, focus on your thoughts, your body and how it feels as you move. Notice the sensation of your feet on as they take each step, the rhythm of your breathing, your heartbeat, or the wind on your skin
Making the time for a hobby is also highly beneficial, such as rock climbing, boxing or martial arts, with these activities you’ll be able to really focus on your body movements - plus you’ll be able to avoid injury!
You may want to withdraw from others, but isolating yourself only makes things worse. Connecting with others face to face will help you feel better, so try to make an effort to be around those who make you feel happy and try not to spend too much time alone
This doesn’t mean you have to involve talking about the trauma every time you go out with others, that can potentially make you feel worse.
It’s also important to have someone you trust to share your feelings with, someone who will listen without judgment, this can be a friend, family member, or counselor
Take the time to do normal outdoor or indoor activities, participate in social activities with people that have nothing to do with the traumatic experience, this will help you keep your mind off it and eventually you should think about the experience a lot less
Reaching out and making new friends with similar interests, reach out to neighbors, work colleagues or join a sports club for example
If you find it hard to connect with others..
Many individuals who have experienced trauma find it difficult to connect with others, if this sounds like you, here are some actions you can take prior to meeting with a friend:
Exercise - Move around as much as you can, jump, skip or walk around outside. By doing this, your head will feel so much clearer and you’ll find it easier and more natural to connect with others
Sing! - As crazy as it may sound, singing is a great way to open up to social engagement. Sit down or dance around while singing to your favorite song, making sure you change your pitch and tone until you experience a pleasant vibration in you
The truth is, maintaining a healthy body and lifestyle will help you increase your ability to cope with the trauma
Make sure you are getting plenty of sleep at night, traumatic experiences may disturb your sleep pattern due to excessive worry or fear. Ultimately, a lack of quality sleep can enhance and make it harder to maintain your emotional balance. Strive to get up and go to sleep at the same time each day, ideally 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night
Avoid drugs and alcohol, by using these, it will worsen your trauma symptoms and increase your risk of depression, anxiety and isolation
Maintaining a healthy diet, having small well-balanced meals throughout the day will keep your energy up and minimize potential mood swings. Avoid foods with high amounts of sugar and grease. Try for foods that have more Omega-3 fats, such as salmon, flaxseeds, and walnuts — to boost your mood!
When It’s Time to Seek Therapy
Everyone heals at their own pace, but if several months have passed, and your symptoms aren’t letting up, it may be time to seek professional help
When it comes to trauma, the healing process takes time. I understand that it can be hard to reach out for help. Working with trauma can be scary, emotional, painful and potentially re-traumatizing for some
Seek professional help if you are experiencing:
Experiencing terrifying flashbacks or memories of the trauma
Unable to form & maintain satisfying relationships
Suffering from fear, anxiety or depression
Emotionally numb & disconnected from others
Having trouble functioning at home or work
Finding the right therapist may take some time, it’s very important that the therapist you choose has experience treating trauma, but quality of the relationship that you have with your therapist is just as equally important
In order to heal from emotional and psychological trauma, you’ll need to resolve the unpleasant feelings and memories you’ve been avoiding and learn to regulate strong emotions and rebuild your ability to trust other people. A trauma specialist may use a variety of different and custom therapy approaches during your session
At Alex Dixon Therapy, based on the content we are discussing and the reasons you are seeking out treatment, it can sometimes be emotionally distressing. Don't worry, we will go at a pace that works best for you. Leaving the first session feeling uncomfortable is unnecessary and ineffective. The goal here is to begin building a strong therapeutic relationship
Let’s start your journey to healing today, book your session with me by clicking here!