Are You Experiencing Symptoms of Your Trauma: 5 Ways to Know
Emotional and psychological trauma happens when someone experiences an extremely stressful event. Often, these events shatter a person's sense of security and can make you feel helpless. You feel like you live in a world full of perpetual dangers. This trauma can leave people struggling with unpredictable emotions, fragmented and repressed memories, and chronic anxiety. These are all classic symptoms of PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The symptoms and signs of PTSD can be cognitive (affecting mental capacity), behavioral, physical, or psychological. Here are five ways to know if you’re experiencing symptoms of your past trauma:
Intrusive thoughts, nightmares, or flashbacks (visual images of the traumatic event)
Flashbacks and intrusive thoughts are common symptoms of trauma and PTSD. It can feel like the traumatic event is happening all over again. It can be upsetting to your mental health and sleep routine. These thoughts and nightmares can cause you to react suddenly or aggressively to escape a perceived threat. These thoughts can also lead to physical and emotional avoidance, withdrawal from personal relationships, and magnify feelings of fear, anxiety, loneliness, and hopelessness.
Memory loss, confusion, and mood swings
PTSD affects several areas of the brain like the prefrontal cortex, amygdala, and hippocampus. The hippocampus is the part of the brain responsible for short-term memory. Trauma reduces the hippocampus's ability to take short-term memories and convert them into long-term memories. Trauma can also cause confusion even years after the traumatic event.
When experiencing PTSD, the amygdala and prefrontal cortex behave differently after trauma. Traumatized minds become hyper-sensitive to threats, which affects the amygdala. The amygdala detects threats, and the prefrontal cortex regulates decision-making when under threat. The prefrontal cortex also plays a critical role in modulating emotions. This redirection of the amygdala and prefrontal cortex causes emotional outbursts, confusion, brain fog, and mood swings.
Avoidance of specific activities or places
Avoidance is often a symptom of a traumatized mind trying to limit its contact with certain triggers, memories, and thoughts surrounding a traumatic event. This avoidance can be emotional as well as physical.
People who experience PTSD sometimes push their emotions aside. These emotions might be related to a traumatic event, but other times they're not. Sometimes, you subdue emotional reactions to current events too. This avoidance can cause additional stress and can worsen other symptoms of PTSD like feelings of isolation, depression, and being easily startled.
Changes in sleeping patterns
Another common symptom of trauma is fluctuating sleep patterns. People who experience PTSD often report trouble falling asleep, frequent waking in the night, and issues going back to sleep after they wake up. Trauma affects the way the body moves through its different sleep cycles. Rapid eye movement, or REM, seems the most affected by trauma.
REM sleep is important for the brain’s processing and storing of memories and emotions. Disturbing dreams and nightmares caused by PTSD further affect the person’s sleep.
It’s important to seek treatment for PTSD to get relief from these and other symptoms like depression, substance abuse, panic disorder, and suicidal thoughts and ideations. The most common treatments are psychotherapy, medications, and sometimes both. Work with a mental health professional who has specific experience with trauma.