How trauma can affect you
Trauma can be an overwhelming experience that disrupts several areas of one’s life, including psychological, physical, social and spiritual dimensions. People react to trauma in different ways and may experience a broad range of symptoms and emotions. Below are listed some common reactions to trauma.
Trauma has taught your body and mind that terrible things can happen. Consequently, you may feel scared, anxious, and easily startled. You may notice that your breath is shallow, your heart-rate fast and your body sweaty and shaky.
Unwanted memories of your trauma may pop into your mind, as if you were re-living that experience over and over again. Memories can be of sights, sounds, smells, or body feelings and may be triggered by reminders of what happened.
Looking out for danger
After a trauma, your emotional brain is “programmed” to stay on the lookout of potentially dangerous situations. You might find that you are quick to notice anyone or anything that may hurt you and be in constant state of vigilance.
Difficulty trusting people
After you have been hurt by others, it may be difficult to feel comfortable around people. It may be hard to trust, feel secure or overcome feelings of shame and inadequacy. (click here for more info to improve relationships/click here to know more).
After a traumatic experience, you may want to avoid people, places and situations that remind you of what happened. That is a form of self-protection from the disturbing memories and reactions that may occur.
Shame & Self-blame
Trauma can also alter your perception and interpretation of events. For example, you may blame yourself or feel guilty for what happened especially if you survived and your loved ones perished. Although feelings of shame are quite common in the aftermath of sexual abuse, always remember that it is not your fault, and you are never the one to blame. Some characteristics of society, stigma and type of abuse also may contribute to feelings of shame.
Dissociation means feeling separated from your body or from the physical reality around you. It may consist of feeling numb, spaced out, or fainting. This is a form of self-protection against the terrible memories of trauma, but in the long run it can impair your ability to face your pain and to lead a normal life (click here to know more about how to deal with such symptoms .
You may find that you get easily frustrated and upset at people and situations. It may be difficult to manage those emotions, and they may affect you and your relationships with your loved ones (for more info on anger, click here
Nightmares and sleeping difficulties
Having bad dreams about your trauma is common. You may also have difficulties falling or staying asleep (click here to know more Wellbeing and sleep: full works | Mental Health Foundation)
Feelings in your body
Trauma can affect your body, contributing to the occurrence of physical/health concerns or even medical conditions, which may include gastro-intestinal problems, back pain, abdominal pain, headache, chest pain, dizziness, general pain, lower immune system, and body feelings you had during trauma.
Trauma often includes experiences of loss and grief. Therefore, feeling sad or even depressed is a common reaction. Such symptoms may include low mood, lack of energy, difficulty experiencing pleasure, withdrawal from activities and social life.
Doubting your beliefs
Making sense of mass atrocities and their consequences can be quite challenging and it may disrupt your spiritual life. You may feel lost and disoriented, loose sense of meaning and purpose, loose hope, and even question your own faith. Some other spiritual effects of trauma may be feeling that life has little purpose and meaning; questioning the presence of a greater power; questioning “Who am I,” “Where am I going,” “Do I really matter”; thoughts of being evil or been punished by God; feeling disconnected from the world around.
All the possible effects of trauma listed above, if not properly handled and if they persist for a long period of time, can also negatively influence your cognitive abilities, including the ability to concentrate, learn and plan.
How to calm yourself down when you feel overwhelmed: grounding and relaxation techniques
Recollection of traumatic events can trigger intense emotional reactions in survivors, such as acute anxiety and dissociation. In their different forms and levels of intensity, trauma-related symptoms can be quite overwhelming for the affected person. In this case, two main actions should be taken: to bring yourself back to the present moment and to calm yourself down. Provide here or wherever you feel best an explanation of the term grounding for a lay audience. Please see below some tips to best handle such reactions in practice.
Breathing. When we are anxious or upset our breathing becomes rapid and shallow. We can feel better by deliberately slowing and relaxing our breathing. Anxious breathing is up in the chest, whereas relaxed breathing happens deeper in the belly. Follow the instructions for a relaxed breathing:
- Breathe in slowly and steadily through your nose for a count of 4 - don’t rush this!
- Pause for a count of 1. Exhale slowly and steadily for a count of 6 - breathe out gradually - try not to breathe out with a sigh.
- Repeat for a few minutes until you notice a change in how your body feels.
- If you get distracted, or if your mind wanders, just bring your attention back to how it feels to breathe in and out.
Smell. Smells are an incredibly powerful way of coming to our senses. If you are deliberately paying attention to a smell, you are truly in the present moment. Try and smell something that has positive associations for you – maybe one that reminds you of happy times, or a smell which you enjoy. Carry it with you and use it to bring yourself back to the present moment if you get caught up in an unwanted memory. Helpful smells:
- Small bottles of essential oils - e.g., eucalyptus, mint, lavender, lemon.
- Small, dried ‑flowers such as lavender.
- Perfume soaked on a tissue.
- Whole spices from the kitchen.
Touch. The sensation of touch has proven helpful in calming the body and managing overwhelming emotions. Below are some suggestions to try for a short while to help you to distract from what you’re experiencing and refocus on what’s happening in the present moment:
- Place your hands on a nearby surface such as a table, book or other object and notice the connection between your hands and the object and what it feels like
- Take a piece of clothing and concentrate on what it feels like, pay attention to the textures
- Feel the pressure of your back on the seat and notice the sensation as you ease into the chair
Move. Movement of the body can be helpful for improved wellbeing and relaxation when you’re feeling emotionally overwhelmed. You can start by taking a walk or a few steps while paying attention to how your body feels with each movement. For example, when your feet touch the floor or when you move your arms and joints, notice the feeling, and any changes in your heart rate and mood.
Muscles relaxation/Body Scan. When we are stressed, we tend to tense up and contract our muscles, without even realizing it. By paying attention to our body and how it feels when we are anxious or upset, we can progressively learn how to relax and feel better. Basic instructions: Can include here how to do the body scan…
Grounding statements. Unwanted memories such as flashbacks can make us mentally ‘time travel’ back to the trauma, and we can sometimes forget that we are safe in the present. It can be helpful to write a ‘grounding statement’ to remind yourself that you are safe now, for example “My name is...., I am...(location) and I am safe now”.
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