Seventy percent of people will experience trauma in their lifetime. But despite how common traumatic experiences are, many of us struggle to talk about and cope with trauma in a healthy way. Some of us may not even be aware that something we’ve experienced is considered trauma: preventing us from getting the help we need.
Learn what trauma is, what normal reactions to trauma are and how to cope after a traumatic experience.
Trauma is an emotional response to an event that negatively affects your mental well-being. Most of us think of trauma as a response to a devastating event like an accident, natural disaster, or sudden loss. But trauma can include events that happen over a longer period of time, like emotional abuse as well as events that happen to people close to us, like witnessing a loved one undergo cancer treatment. If you’re having trouble coping with trauma, it’s okay to ask for help. An evaluation from a mental health professional, like a psychiatrist, is a good place to start.
No two people will respond to trauma the exact same way. You may feel overwhelmed with emotions, numb, or anywhere in between. Your trauma history, age, support system, or cultural beliefs can all influence how you respond to and process a traumatic experience.
While all reactions to trauma are normal, sometimes you may need professional support to help you process your emotions in a healthy way. If you’re having trouble going about your day, are feeling the desire to isolate or self-harm, or have unwanted thoughts or feelings, reach out to a mental health professional for support.
Common experiences and responses to trauma:
PTSD is a long-term response to a traumatic event and includes ongoing symptoms of re-living the event (think: flashbacks, nightmares, etc), wanting to avoid things that may trigger reliving the event, or being overly alert or easily startled.
It’s normal for a traumatic event to cause emotional or behavioral changes. Just because you’ve experienced trauma, doesn’t mean you will develop PTSD because of it. In fact, about 70% of people will experience trauma in their lifetime and only 6% of those people will develop PTSD as a result.
You can’t prevent PTSD from developing but scientists agree that getting help from a mental health professional can reduce your risk. Depending on the severity, type of trauma you experienced, and current symptoms, a mental health professional may treat you with a type of talk therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or a noninvasive therapy called EMDR which involves using a series of rapid eye movements to help your brain process a traumatic event.
It’s tempting to want to avoid or write off emotions that are inevitable after a traumatic experience, but in order for your brain to process trauma in a healthy way, it’s important to let yourself feel and acknowledge any emotions as they come up.
Here are a few other ways to cope with trauma:
Talkiatry is a national psychiatry practice that provides in-network, virtual care. Co-founded by a patient and a triple-board-certified psychiatrist, Talkiatry has over 300 doctors, 60 insurance partners, and first visits available in days. We treat patients with anxiety, depression, trauma, ADHD, and more. Get started with a short online assessment.
The information in this article is for informational and educational purposes only and should never be substituted for medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. If you or someone you know may be in danger, call 911 or the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 right away.
Dr. Mendez-Maldonado is double board-certified in general psychiatry and geriatric psychiatry. She received her medical degree from the University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine. She then moved to New York to complete her residency training At Mount Sinai Beth Israel where she stayed to complete her fellowship in geriatric psychiatry. After her fellowship, she proceeded to work at Woodhull Hospital where she worked as an attending before becoming unit chief and running their Special Pathogens Unit during the COVID-19 pandemic.
She focuses on medication management and offers this in conjunction with supportive therapy, cognitive-behavioral techniques, a focus on nutritional psychiatry, and 30-minute follow-up visits.
Dr. Mendez-Maldonado focuses on integrating nutrition, physical activity, and mindfulness techniques alongside pharmacotherapy to achieve a well-rounded approach to mental health.