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What is trauma

Trauma in its simplest form is an emotional response to a horrible event(s). A person can experience a singular traumatic incident (rape, accident, or natural disaster), trauma over a period of time (sexual abuse, domestic violence, exposure to war/combat), generational trauma, and/or many traumas throughout their lifetime. Trauma can also exist for a person who is listening to somebody describe their traumatic experience, this is known as vicarious or secondary trauma.

Common reactions to trauma

While it is not uncommon for individuals to experience some form of trauma(s) in their lifetime, the way that each person copes can vary greatly. Although not an all-inclusive list, there are just a few common reactions to trauma:

  • Shock
  • Disbelief
  • Numbness
  • Flashbacks and/or nightmares.
  • Memory problems.
  • Inability to focus.
  • Increased use of substances as a way to "numb".
  • Increased anxiousness.
  • Hypervigilance
  • Increased irritability or frustration.
  • Anger
  • Avoidance of things that remind you of the trauma.

Some things you can do to help yourself

  • Grounding techniques: Learning how to ground yourself can be a powerful tool, particularly when experiencing a flashback. These tools help "prove" to our brains that we are safe and not re-experiencing the trauma.
  • Focusing on basic needs and self-care: Practicing healthy eating and a sleep routine can help regulate.
  • Writing/Art: Putting pen or brush to paper to express emotions or feelings related to your trauma can provide some relief and help organize our thoughts. 
  • Exercise: Beyond the normal benefits of endorphins and physical well-being, exercising helps us control our bodies within our environment. Running, yoga, or even going for a walk can prove helpful.
  • See support from others: Whether it's from loved ones, friends, an advocate, or a professional, talking to others can provide an outlet for emotional validation of one's feelings and a sense that you are not alone.

When you should seek more help

While an emotional response to trauma is expected, if you find yourself struggling with things in your daily life, talking to a therapist or an advocate of some kind may help. Beyond this, some individuals that experience trauma may have PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and can benefit from talking with a professional.


Trauma and the Brain

The 5-4-3-2-1 Method: A Grounding Exercise to Manage Anxiety