How to Know You're Experiencing Trauma and Recovery Options
Written by Monique Roy, Registered Social Worker (RSW), Clinical Therapist
When people hear the word trauma, many think of it as a result of a big and scary event. When in fact trauma may be big or small, and based on a single event or many experiences over time. My name is Monique Roy and I am a social worker and clinical therapist at Food to Fit. In this post I’m going to discuss what trauma is exactly, what happens in your nervous system when you experience a traumatic event, symptoms of trauma, and how to help resolve trauma.
What is Trauma?
Although trauma can be defined in many different ways and there are various types, in essence, trauma is a breach in a person’s nervous system (NS). Trauma happens when the ability to choose was taken away. Trauma can show up in the form of sudden stress from a perceived life-threat or as the end result of additive stress.
When a person experiences a traumatic event, the NS goes into either fight, flight or freeze (a NS survival response). People have the ability to make sense of their experiences by using their words and their thoughts. However, this process does not allow the NS survival response to complete itself, and this in turn causes trauma symptoms.
What are Symptoms of Trauma?
Trauma symptoms may include any of the following:
- Panic attacks
- Frequent crying
- Sleeping and eating changes or difficulties
- Hypervigilance (ie. being “on guard” at all times)
- Exaggerated emotional and startle responses
- Extreme sensitivity to light and sound
- Nightmares and night terrors
- Abrupt mood swings (e.g. rage reactions or temper tantrums)
- Shame and reduced ability to deal with stress.
Overall, trauma separates the different parts in a person’s internal system to the point where they are unable to be in the here and now.
How Does One Cope and Heal From Trauma?
There are many strategies that can support someone through trauma, including: connecting with others, reducing stress, meditation, movement, and/or therapy with a trauma specialist. One approach used by therapists is called Somatic Experiencing (SE).
Somatic Experiencing is the process of healing trauma through accessing your NS and focusing on body sensations rather that thoughts and memories. It offers a gentle approach to help manage your sense of safety through your own physiology. I like to describe SE as an invitation to slow down and renegotiate your basic survival mechanisms by connecting to your environment through your body sensations. This can help to normalize the symptoms of trauma and offer a natural way to resolve internal activation. In other words, you may release pent up trauma-related energy through shaking, crying, or other forms of physical release. This helps to relax and regulate the NS and move away from the fight, flight, and freeze responses.
If you feel you're struggling with the effects of trauma, you don't have to do it alone. If you are wondering how SE can help, find out more about me and my approach to care here. You deserve to live a meaningful and happy life.