What is trauma?
The word ‘trauma’ means ‘wound’ in Ancient Greek. It typically occurs as a result of an event that overwhelms an individual’s capacity to cope.
Such events can cause or threaten to cause severe injury or death.
A traumatic event can range from bereavement to natural disasters, but they can have a common long-lasting negative impact on mental wellbeing if left unchecked.
Survivors are often relive a traumatic event throughout their lives.
This ‘fight or flight’ reaction is a logical bodily response to the fear created by the initial crisis.
Unfortunately, untreated trauma can seriously affect a person’s ability to move freely through life.
Types of trauma in the modern world
We live in an unstable and uncertain world.
Behind the headlines detailing a society dealing with intersecting geopolitical, economic, as well as health crises, are many stories of individual trauma.
Refugees, asylum seekers, and other ‘displaced’ or ‘stateless’ persons have been shown to be more likely to have experienced acute and cumulative trauma – and to be much more susceptible to developing an acute stress disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
There are also concerns about the lasting traumatic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Leading psychiatrists have urged NHS bosses to regularly screen survivors of COVID-19 for the symptoms of PTSD, underlining the importance of mental health – as well as physical – in recovery from critical care.
What are the symptoms of dealing with trauma?
There are many different signs that someone could be struggling to deal with. These could include:
- Poor concentration
- Intrusive memories and thoughts
- Anxiety and panic
- Physical symptoms: racing heart, headaches, stomach aches
- Development of mental disorder, including PTSD.
How coping can help
Coping is key to mitigating the potentially psychologically damaging impact of trauma.
While there are recommended ways to channel the pain of trauma into positive behaviour, each individual has their own coping mechanisms for dealing with traumatic events.
Some coping strategies are negative – withdrawing from the pain of emotion, using drugs or alcohol to escape negative memories.
Others can be positive – proactively seeking therapy to deal with a traumatic event, or searching for a renewed sense of meaning and purpose, that can safely locate trauma as part of a ‘broader’ life narrative.
This could involve volunteering – helping others in order to help yourself.
Mindfulness – the act of concentrating on the breath and recognising thoughts and feelings to be passing – can also be useful.
Trauma and recovery
It is part of the emotional terrain that many of us may have to navigate at some point in our lives.
It can impact how we view ourselves and others, how we regulate our emotions, how we view the world, and also our mental well being.
However, with the right interventions, and armed with the best knowledge, trauma needn’t hold us back.
In time, trauma can even be seen positively, as a step on the path to change – and deeper meaning.