Trauma is a word we hear a lot these days. Often when we think of trauma we think of clinically diagnosable PTSD or a majorly catastrophic event. However, trauma comes in many shapes and forms. In fact, many would argue that we have all been experiencing trauma on a global level since the pandemic.
Trauma results from a feeling of being threatened or in danger and in many cases what one person perceives as traumatic, another may not. The bottom line is trauma occurs when a person is overwhelmed by an event(s) or experience and responds with intense fear, horror and helplessness (Mrini, 2021). The stress of these can overwhelm the person’s capacity to cope (NIMH, September 2021). Stressors that cause a trauma response can be financial insecurity, sudden or ongoing illness, abuse, job loss, divorce or grief/loss, just to name a few. While these and other events do not always lead to a trauma response, being able to recognize when it occurs and knowing what to do can be helpful.
Trauma lives in our nervous system, and our nervous system functions to protect us in times of perceived threat. Fight, flight, freeze and fawn are nervous system responses to threat. A trauma response can look like agitation and being combative; literally, or figuratively escaping; being immobilized, or feeling unable to do anything; or acquiescing and giving into people and things we really don’t want to. Trauma can look like anger, anxiety or depression, or it can express itself in physical symptoms.
We are living in unprecedented times. If we are experiencing a trauma response it is important to remember that it is not a personal defect — it is a normal reaction, a protective reaction, to perceived danger or threat. Help is available in many forms. Military OneSource offers confidential, non-medical counseling — face to face, online, by phone or video — along with the Military Crisis Line at 800-273-TALK (8255), and resources for PTSD. All are available for free.