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Trauma Explained: Defining, Identifying, and Treating It

Psychological trauma occurs when someone experiences a highly stressful situation. Everyone who experiences a stressful event does not develop trauma. There are several kinds of trauma, and some people develop symptoms that can resolve after a short time. Others can experience more debilitating and long-term effects.

Treatment can help you address the original cause of trauma. Treatments range from medication to psychological treatments like EMDR. Medication is not necessary but it can help manage symptoms during the healing process. One of the most effective treatments is medicine alongside a certified therapist to help you find constructive coping mechanisms to deal with the trauma.

What is Trauma?

The American Psychological Association defines trauma as “an emotional response to a terrible event.” This includes accidents, rape, natural disaster, among other stressful events. Someone who has experienced trauma can show responses to any similar events, and these symptoms can be physical, emotional, or psychological.

The severity of trauma depends on the event and the person. Severe traumas often result in long-term effects that directly affect a person’s ability to live a normal life. There are a few different types of trauma to note:

  • Acute trauma: resulting from a single stressful event

  • Chronic trauma: resulting from repeated prolonged exposure to stressful events

  • Complex trauma: resulting from exposure to multiple traumatic events

There is another kind of trauma called secondary or vicarious trauma. This is a trauma that occurs when a person experiences trauma indirectly, such as being in close contact or proximity to someone experiencing or having experienced a traumatic event.

Identifying Trauma

Mental health professionals best identify trauma by the symptoms exhibited. As discussed above, these symptoms can be psychological, emotional, or physical. Symptoms include:

Emotional symptoms

  • Anger

  • Fear

  • Sadness

  • Shame

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Numbness

  • Guilt

  • Irritability

Psychological symptoms

  • Denial

  • Hopelessness

  • Difficulty focusing

  • Unexplained emotional outbursts

  • Flashbacks

  • Nightmares

Physical symptoms

  • Digestive issues

  • Fatigue

  • Elevated heart rate

  • Sweating

  • Jumpiness

  • Headaches

  • Muscle aches

  • A constant state of alertness

  • Substance abuse

Treating and Coping with Trauma

Even though no one can ever erase the trauma, treatment and coping are very attainable, and you don’t have to go through it alone:

Mindfulness practices

Breathing exercise, mindful movement, and journaling have all proven effective ways of coping with trauma. These mindful practices allow your brain time and space to process the trauma without outward distractions. Activities like these can help deactivate your body’s fight-flight-freeze response, which becomes activated during the anxiety response.


Daily gentle movement also helps your body decompress from the physical responses to anxiety. The idea is not fitness or weight loss, simply moving yourself a little each day. This can include walking, yoga, and gentle stretching. Each day of gentle can do a lot for an anxious mind. Movement produces the feel-good chemicals in the brain that we often seek from other stimulants like overeating or substance abuse.

Reach out

When dealing with anxiety, it’s important to have a solid support system in place. Your close friends and family members love you, and they want to support you while you recover your mental health. Isolation and avoidant behaviors often show up alongside other anxiety symptoms. If you notice yourself isolating, call or text a friend to talk.

Talk to a professional

The help of a professional therapist and a general practitioner can have a tremendous effect on someone’s ability to recover from trauma. A general practitioner can help you identify and treat the physical and some emotional symptoms. If you’re having trouble finding a therapist, ask your practitioner for a recommendation. With the help of a therapist and possibly medication, your road to recovery becomes easier. Reach out today and take your life back.