In very simple terms, trauma is the response to a distressing or disturbing event that overwhelms a person’s ability to cope. This causes feelings of helplessness and shatters their sense of self and ability to feel particular emotions and experiences. Whether this was due to a sudden illness, assault, accident or a natural disaster, the effects of trauma can be very powerful and disturbing.

Every individual is different, therefore, it is only natural that symptoms will vary, However, when it comes to trauma there are some common symptoms.

Emotional signs:

  • sadness
  • denial
  • fear
  • shame
  • anger

Physical symptoms:

  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • altered sleep patterns
  • changes in appetite
  • headaches
  • gastrointestinal problems

Psychological disorders:

  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • dissociative disorders
  • substance abuse problems

Other problems:

  • nightmares
  • insomnia
  • difficulty with relationships
  • emotional outbursts

The word PTSD seems to be a very common language among those who talk about trauma. However, it is important to note that not every traumatised person develops PTSD. Some people may develop symptoms like those listed above, but they go away after a few weeks, this is called acute stress disorder (ASD). PTSD is much more complex than ASD, usually the symptoms will last a lot longer and these seriously affect the person’s ability to function long-term. Also, some people with PTSD don’t show symptoms for months or years after the event itself. And some people deal with symptoms for the rest of their life. These can escalate to panic attacks, depression, suicidal thoughts and feelings and drug or alcohol abuse.

Treatments and Therapies
The main treatments for people with trauma related issues are medications, therapy, or both. Everyone is different, and trauma affects people differently, so there is no one way that will work with everyone. However, it is important for anyone suffering from trauma to be treated by a professional who is experienced with trauma.

The most common type of medication for treating trauma are antidepressants, this may help control certain symptoms such as sadness, worry, anger, and feeling numb inside. Other medications can be used to help sleep problems and nightmares. Doctors and patients should work together to find the best medication or combination, as well as the right dose.

Therapists can help people to find ways to cope with particular events that trigger their trauma symptoms, usually these include:

  • education about trauma and its effects
  • relaxation techniques
  • anger-control skills
  • provide tips for overall health
  • help identify and deal with guilt, shame, and other feelings about the event
  • focus on changing how people react to their symptoms.

When dealing with trauma, it may be very hard to take the first step to do something about it, or you may even be unsure how you can help yourself. It is important to realise that although it may take some time, with the right treatment, you can get better. 

Stef Gafa’ is a counsellor with Willingness who has a particular interest in trauma, attachment, domestic violence and the LGBT community.