Trauma: It Affects Almost All of Us
It’s estimated that over half of us will experience at least one profoundly traumatic event in our lifetime. That means more than 50% of us will either experience or witness something horrific that will cause us to fear for our safety, possibly believing that we will die. Almost all of us will go through some pretty negative stuff in our lives that may be traumatic to us on some level. Natural disasters, accidents, abuse, violent crime and war are just examples of traumatic events people experience every day. There’s also divorce, loss of a job, and illness. Most survivors will recover, but approximately 10% or so do not. So why are some people scarred by these events and others seem to recover?
The most accurate answer is that we don’t fully know why some people recover and others don’t. We think it has something to do with genetics, previous trauma history, social support, physical health and the way your nervous system works. Typically, almost everyone who experiences a traumatic event feels rattled for a while, but tends to recover within 30 to 60 days, six months at the most. During this time you may feel dazed, numb, out-of-sorts, and have intrusive recollections of the trauma. The problem comes when these sensations do not go away.
Acute Stress Disorder vs. PTSD
The initial trauma response known as Acute Stress Disorder morphs into Post Traumatic Stress Disorder if, six months after the trauma, the person is still “rattled” by the event. Something happens in the brain that prevents the nervous system from calming down. The fight or flight response is locked into the “on” position. Symptoms get pretty intense. Common symptoms that get a lot of attention are nightmares and flashbacks, but a number of lesser-known symptoms are likely, too. Guilt, depression, memory problems, mood swings, hypervigilance, and avoidance are also indicators. Physical symptoms can be debilitating as well. Survivors report sensitive smelling and hearing, throwing up, being easily startled, chronic fatigue, constantly feeling like you are dying, excruciating pain through out the body, uncontrollable anxiety… the list goes on and on.
Does it feel like your nervous system is stuck in the “on” position?
It’s time to get help from a professional therapist. PTSD does not go away by itself. The long term consequences of untreated PTSD are not positive. Social, emotional, physical and sexual health all start to decline. Trauma is not something that happens to only your brain. It is a whole body experience and therefore the consequences affect your whole body.
But I’m not a veteran, how can I have PTSD?
Experiencing trauma is not exclusive to veterans. Anyone who experiences an event in which they had a profound fear is at a heightened risk for PTSD.
Why are the consequences of trauma so severe and often long-lasting?
Emerging research has shown that the physiological and emotional stress triggered by trauma can cause pronounced, changes to the body and mind. Scientists have found measurable differences in cognition, memory creation and recall, and emotional processes like pleasure, emotional regulation, and ability to build trusting relationships with others. There is another emerging field of research devoted to the neurobiology and visible physiological changes caused by traumatic stress, validating what many survivors already knew—our bodies are affected and “hold” the trauma, sometimes long-term.
How do I fix it?
Just as the trauma rewired your brain into a constant state of anxiety, therapy can rewire your brain to calm down. The brain is not a static organ. Until death, our brains are learning and rewiring at incredible speeds. Together, with a therapist, you will work to identify the source of the trauma and how to release its grip over you. You will learn the neuroscience of why you feel the way you do and what you can do about it. There are a variety of methods in which this can be done and together with your therapist you will choose the most appropriate methodology.
If you believe you are experiencing unpleasant symptoms following a traumatic experience, please contact me. It can get better.