Trauma - What are the warning signs

Warning Signs of Trauma

Trauma is something many people are living with, and it can be brought on by a variety of events, from abuse or assault to car accidents or natural disasters. The signs of trauma can sometimes be subtle, especially if a person has unconsciously built coping mechanisms to conceal what they’re feeling. If it’s left unprocessed, it can have a significant negative impact on a person’s life.

What Is Trauma?

Trauma is a response to distressing or unpleasant events that have had a lasting impact on a person’s physical and mental well-being. While some people are aware of their trauma and the events that caused it, others may not realize what they’re experiencing, especially if the traumatic event occurred when they were very young. Trauma is incredibly common, with around 70% of adults in the United States having experienced at least one traumatic event in their lives.

For some people, a trauma response is brought on not by one big unpleasant experience but by prolonged stress. Whatever the cause, processing those events and understanding the feelings they bring on is an essential part of the healing process.

Symptoms and Signs of Trauma

Trauma can manifest itself in several ways. Some physical signs of trauma include:

  • Insomnia or disturbed sleep patterns
  • Fatigue
  • Chronic pain
  • Headaches
  • Loss of appetite or, conversely, overeating
  • Muscle tension
  • Skin issues
  • Shortness of breath
  • An elevated heart rate

These physical symptoms are caused by the body being in a heightened state of arousal for a prolonged period.

In addition to physical symptoms, signs of emotional trauma in adults can include:

  • Intrusive thoughts related to the traumatic event
  • A feeling of hypervigilance
  • Persistent fear or anxiety
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty controlling anger
  • Social withdrawal
  • Sadness or depression

Some individuals struggling with trauma feel shame or guilt related to the traumatic event. These feelings are things a therapist may be able to help with.

Trauma vs. Stress or Anxiety

Trauma and stress are closely related, but they’re different things. Short-term stress can be healthy and motivating. For example, young people may feel stressed about upcoming examinations but channel the stress to get motivated to study harder and do well on the test.

Long-term stress, however, can lead to trauma and result in difficulty regulating emotions, feelings of anxiety and the other symptoms listed above.

Anxiety is a common emotion that sometimes relates to trauma, but this isn’t always the case. Some people with persistent anxiety may find those feelings are rooted in a trauma they experienced when they were younger. For others, anxiety is a response to short-term stress, social isolation or even health problems.

Because there are so many causes for mental health challenges and the causes can be so closely related, it’s important to seek professional advice if you’re struggling with stress, depression, anxiety or other mental health issues.

Conditions Similar to Trauma

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition that’s closely related to trauma, but it manifests differently. Trauma is a response to a difficult or challenging event, both in the immediate moments after the event and in the longer term. Someone can exhibit signs of trauma for months or years after a traumatic experience without being diagnosed with PTSD.

Long-term trauma could be classified as PTSD if a person is showing the following symptoms:

  • Flashbacks or nightmares relating to the event
  • A need to avoid anything that reminds them of the traumatic experience
  • Persistent heightened arousal and reactivity
  • Difficulty remembering details of the trauma
  • A loss of interest in previously pleasurable activities

Around 6% of adults in the United States have experienced PTSD. The condition’s symptoms are typically more severe than symptoms of trauma and may require a focused approach to therapy.

Recovering From Trauma

Trauma is a complex issue, and treating trauma requires a thoughtful, compassionate approach. If you’ve been through a traumatic experience and you’d like to talk to someone about how the experience has affected you, call the Mental Health Hotline today.

We’re open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to offer free, confidential support. Our team can provide you with a variety of mental health resources and guide you as you take the next step toward recovering from trauma.