Traumatic experiences can cause significant disruption in coping or normal functioning.
Everyone reacts differently, and some people who experience a traumatic life event will be able to recover with the help and support of family or friends.
If problems do appear, they could happen immediately after the traumatic experience – or they may develop and emerge later in life.
Situations that can lead to psychological trauma include interpersonal conflicts and/or violence, such as abuse, rape, suicide of a relative/friend, natural disasters and accidents.
Common Effects of Psychological Trauma
The effects of traumatic experiences may be seen in the body, behaviours and thoughts of the sufferer. Common symptoms of psychological trauma include:
- Increased alertness and being excessively aware of surrounding danger;
- Startle or frighten easily;
- Physical exhaustion/fatigue;
- Disrupted sleep pattern;
- Recurring thoughts of past traumatic event (flashbacks);
- Visual memories of the event, and nightmares during sleep;
- Difficulties concentrating.
- Avoidance of places or people that remind the individual of the traumatic experience;
- Social withdrawal/isolation;
- loss of interest/reduced pleasure in things that were once enjoyable.
- Intense fear and emotional detachment from certain things;
- Anger, shame and irritability;
- Depression and anxiety.
If the above symptoms are not chronic and severe, they are generally normal reactions to trauma. Although the symptoms may be negative and distressing, they are part of an internal healing process after a traumatic and difficult event, whilst trying to make sense and put perspective on it.
Some individuals however, will develop more severe psychological conditions as a result of their trauma. These include dissociation, depression, substance abuse/addictions and post traumatic stress disorder.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD is a clinical disorder that is extremely distressing and can lead to issues with being able to function, cope and maintain social relationships.
PTSD involves re-experiencing the trauma through flashbacks, nightmares or intrusive memories. Sufferers also experience a hyperarousal of physical feelings, and numbing of emotive responses. Psychological therapy is often required for PTSD, as these issues don’t tend to resolve with time alone.
Self Steps to Help Manage Trauma
If you have suffered a traumatic experience, and recognise some of the effects in your own life, here are some steps to help you:
- Allow yourself to experience a reaction to your trauma by recognising your distressing experiences. Don’t feel angry or guilty for being emotional or upset.
- Avoid overuse of alcohol and/or drugs to cope, as these may make the problems worse.
- Allow yourself to gradually confront what has happened, as this will enable you to come to terms with the trauma.
- Do not try and avoid your feelings – share your experiences with those you feel comfortable with and trust, as this is helpful in dealing with the trauma.
- Try and maintain your normal routine and structure, and allow yourself to rest when you are feeling tired.
- Try and find time to practice relaxation such as progressive muscle relaxation or mindfulness, as this will allow your body to relax and readjust when anxious.
- Express your feelings in different ways such as writing them down in a thought diary, as this may help with the healing process.
- Let your loved ones know of your needs, as they can assist and support you when you are feeling tired or need to talk with someone.
Help to Overcome the Effects of Traumatic Experiences
You should make an appointment to see a psychologist if your symptoms are severe and distressing, or prolonged (ie they last more than 2 weeks).
Other cautionary signs may include: not being able to cope with the debilitating and distressing emotions; feeling numb; an increase of physical symptoms; ongoing disturbed sleep or nightmares; or having minimal support around you.
Treatment for trauma usually includes learning skills to manage the intrusive thoughts through interventions such as Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. A psychologist can also assist by educating you about the trauma, teaching you stress reduction techniques, and allowing you to confront your distressed thoughts and fearful situations in a safe environment.
Author: Shokria Siddiqui, BSc.Psych, PGDipPsych, PGDipMH, MPsych, MAPS.
Shokria Siddiqui is a Brisbane Psychologist working with all ages, however she has a particular interest in children and adolescents. By implementing evidence-based therapies that have been scientifically tested, building rapport with her clients, and creating a safe therapeutic space, Shokria helps her clients and their families to better meet life’s challenges.
To make an appointment with Brisbane Psychologist Shokria Siddiqui, try Online Booking – Mt Gravatt or call Vision Psychology on (07) 3088 5422.