Are These Normal Trauma Symptoms (Or Are You Struggling With PTSD?)
Nearly 7% of Americans struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at some point during their lives. There is no doubt that PTSD can be a frightening, challenging, and debilitating struggle for both individuals and their loved ones.
It is important to note that everyone responds to trauma differently. That said, it can be difficult to discern the differences between “routine” trauma symptoms and PTSD. Let’s explore what you need to know.
Understanding Normal Trauma Symptoms
Trauma can threaten both one’s physical and emotional safety. Trauma may occur in single, standalone events, and it can also be long-term and systemic. Likewise, trauma can affect you both directly (such as experiencing a sexual assault) or indirectly (such as witnessing domestic violence).
There isn’t a universal way to process or cope with trauma. How you experience and internalize trauma depends on several, multidisciplinary variables including:
- The type of trauma
- How others responded to your trauma
- Your current sense of resilience
- History of mental illness
- The severity of physical or cognitive injuries
- Your current coping skills
- History of past traumas
Events that don’t bother some people may profoundly impact others. That said, there are some common reactions to consider when understanding trauma symptoms.
Anxiety is a typical trauma response. When your life feels threatened, your mind and body activate the fight-or-flight system. As a result, many people experience anxiety-related symptoms such as:
- Racing thoughts
- Paranoia and hypervigilance
- Panic attacks
You may feel anxious in specific situations or around certain people that remind you of the trauma. You may notice yourself feeling jumpier or “on edge.” However, with time, these reactions will usually lessen in severity.
Guilt and Shame
After experiencing a trauma, it’s normal to ruminate on the events leading up to and during the incident. You may feel stuck in a vicious cycle of what-ifs and should-haves. You may feel like you hold responsibility for what happened to you. This is your mind replaying the trauma and trying to make sense of what happened.
Likewise, if you witnessed the trauma occur to someone else, you may experience a sense of survivor’s guilt. This guilt is also a common trauma symptom. After all, it is reasonable to question why you were spared that specific pain or anguish. With time, these reactions also tend to lessen in severity.
Isolation and Avoidance
Feeling “normal” after trauma may seem impossible. Moreover, you may not feel ready or willing to share what happened to you to others. If people do know about the trauma, you may feel insecure and unstable in their presence.
Temporary isolation and avoidance are normal reactions. You may need some time to process your emotions. Perhaps, loved ones have tried to comfort you, but you’re finding their sentiments invalidating or even discouraging.
You had something terrible happen to you, and maybe the trauma shocked you to the core. Maybe you weren’t sure if you were going to make it out alive. And perhaps, it disrupted the entire course of your life. Trauma is painful, and it’s normal to feel depressed after it occurs.
Common depression symptoms may include:
- Feelings of worthlessness
- A lack of energy
- Difficulty with focus and concentration
- Feeling emotionally and even physically heavy
- Sleep problems
- Dramatic appetite changes
In some cases, depression can also include suicidal thoughts and plans. Although it is normal to question your life after a trauma, all suicidal thoughts should be taken seriously and addressed accordingly by a mental health professional.
When Trauma Symptoms Become PTSD
As mentioned, it is normal to feel shaken and disturbed after a traumatic event. However, most people start feeling better within a few weeks or months. Even if the symptoms do not go away completely, you should notice an improvement over time.
If you’ve been struggling for several months (or the symptoms appear to be worsening), you may be experiencing PTSD. PTSD makes you feel like you are in dangerous and life-threatening distress even long after the event has passed.
Anyone is susceptible to PTSD, and the onset occurs at least one month after experiencing the event (earlier onset is often indicative of Acute Stress Disorder, another mental health condition). PTSD symptoms include:
- Re-experiencing symptoms (racing thoughts, nightmares, flashbacks)
- Avoidance symptoms (avoiding people, places, or situations reminiscent of the trauma)
- Arousal symptoms (feeling startled or tense, having anger outbursts)
- Mood and cognitive symptoms (losing interest in usual activities, heightened guilt and blame, negative thoughts about oneself and the world)
If untreated, PTSD can seriously impact your daily functioning. That’s because the severity of these symptoms can affect your quality of relationships, work and school performance, and typical household responsibilities.
Getting The Trauma Treatment You Need
PTSD is treatable. Seeking professional support during this time can help you learn how to better cope with symptoms and reestablish a healthier perception of yourself.
EMDR therapy empowers individuals who have experienced trauma by helping them reconcile parts of their past, present, and future. This therapy will desensitize some of the intense reactions rooted in your trauma symptoms. It will also help challenge (and change) some of the negative core beliefs you hold about yourself and the world around you.
Are you interested in learning more about how EMDR therapy can help you? Learm more about the services offered at Willow Counseling today- we are here to guide you through your journey towards recovery.
Willow Counseling, PLLC
Willow Counseling, PLLC exists to provide quality trauma-informed mental health counseling to the Nashville community, recognizing the interconnectedness of our emotional, spiritual and physical selves. We work together to alleviate symptoms, learn better coping skills, relieve burdens, remove the pain of trauma, and so much more. However, our greatest desire is for you to know what it means to feel purpose and joy again and to recognize the strength and worth you have to offer the world.