As a therapist, it can be difficult for me to imagine a world without trauma. It seems as though everyone I see in my practice has experienced some sort of trauma. Of course, there may be obvious reasons for an apparent recent increase in the reports of trauma.
Facing a global pandemic, encountering COVID-19 vaccination conflict, witnessing an unprecedented increase in gun violence in the U.S., and seeing unemployment rates rival those of the Great Depression led me to wonder who hasn’t been traumatized.
According to a global survey, over 70% of the respondents reported experiencing a traumatic event at least once in their life. That’s quite a staggering statistic! So my next question is whether post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is inevitable after trauma or are there factors that can help prevent the development of the disorder.
What is trauma?
A quick Google review of the term trauma will yield varying definitions of what constitutes trauma. In general, trauma is experienced when a person perceives an event as physically or emotionally threatening to their wellbeing. Trauma can be caused by violence, abuse, accidents—or even a global pandemic.
A traumatized person may feel a range of emotions immediately following the traumatizing event. In some cases, these emotions don’t make themselves known until months or even years after. Responses to trauma can include anger, fear, confusion, anxiety, headaches, and fatigue.
Does trauma have to develop into PTSD? Are there actions that reduce that risk?
What is PTSD?
PTSD is considered one of the most common disorders that can result from exposure to trauma. It can develop when the symptoms of trauma continue to worsen over months or years.
As a result, the person might feel like they are reliving the trauma over and over and might experience severe anxiety, flashbacks, nightmares, or avoidant behaviors.
PTSD is a serious condition and can affect a person’s ability to function in their day-to-day life.
But does trauma have to develop into PTSD? Are there actions that reduce the risk of trauma developing into PTSD?
It turns out that there are protective steps a person can take that contribute to how—or whether—they “bounce back” from a traumatic event.
6 ways to help develop resilience in the face of trauma
1. Talk about the trauma
Although painful, it is critical to talk about the trauma with a trusted friend, loved one, or therapist. Putting words to the distressing event takes the power away from it and allows you to express your feelings about the experience. Additionally, bonding with family and others can help you feel connected during this stressful time.
2. View yourself as a survivor
Contemplate viewing the experience of trauma as an opportunity to appreciate life from a new perspective. The fact that you have lived through trauma makes you a survivor. Take advantage of this new point of view and consider the opportunities for growth that can come from it.
Because trauma interferes with your body’s natural rhythm and leaves you caught in a state of hyperarousal and overstimulation, exercise can help to repair the nervous system after trauma.
3. Identify your triggers
Symptoms of trauma can be “triggered” by things that remind you of the trauma you have experienced. This is especially apparent in some PTSD cases. Things that trigger symptoms can include an anniversary, a certain smell, or even watching a movie. Identifying your triggers may help reduce the strength they have over you.
4. Monitor your nervous system
Trauma can cause an overstimulation of your sympathetic nervous system (SNS) leaving you feeling anxious, restless, and fatigued. Using a few calming techniques can help to regulate your SNS. Consider practicing mindful breathing or grounding techniques to help you acknowledge and accept your thoughts and feelings about the trauma.
5. Move your body
Let’s face it, we all feel better after exercise. Because trauma interferes with your body’s natural rhythm and leaves you caught in a state of hyperarousal and overstimulation, exercise can help to repair the nervous system after trauma.
Consider exercising for 30 minutes per day. Engage in an exercise that uses both your arms and your legs. Walking, running, and dancing are all great ways to get the body moving.
6. Seek professional help
Recovering from trauma takes as long as it takes. So if you have tried all of these things, but your symptoms are still interfering with your daily life, consider seeking professional help.
It’s important to find a therapist who works with and treats trauma. Working through trauma can be scary and painful at times, so finding a professional with whom you feel comfortable is well worth the effort.
Remember, in the end, you are not alone. There is always someone willing to listen, support, and guide you in your recovery process through trauma.
Think you might have PTSD?
Take our PTSD quiz to see if you may be suffering from a post-traumatic stress disorder.