About half of all Americans will encounter at least one traumatic or stressful event in their lifetime. A traumatic or stressful event is potentially lethal and overwhelms a person’s ability to cope, resulting in significant physical, mental, or emotional disability. Another person can inflict a traumatic or stressful event, such as acts of violence, terrorism, war, abuse, or a natural disaster. For example, a landslide, hurricane, or tsunami.
While specific people are more vulnerable to traumatic events, no one is immune: an estimated 90 percent of adults in the U.S. have been affected by a traumatic event at some point in their lives, with up to 20 percent suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD affects one out of every thirteen adults at some point.
Individual traumatic and stress reactions vary widely, and a single traumatic or stressful experience will have a different influence on a person than the accumulation of numerous traumatic incidents.
You’ve all been in difficult situations like this at some point. If you’re like most people, you probably haven’t given stress much thought beyond the fact that it’s an unavoidable part of life. You may not realize that stress significantly influences the body, and those who underestimate or dismiss stress do so at their peril. Here is how stress and trauma affect the body and mind:
A panic attack is the most common type of stress and trauma response. When you are under stress, your breathing becomes faster. Depending on the severity, you may begin hyperventilating and experiencing chest pains, indicating the onset of panic attacks, which affect about 5% of Americans. Although panic attacks are not fatal, they can have the appearance of being so when they occur.
A panic attack is characterized by a brief period of extreme anxiety accompanied by bodily terror sensations. A racing heart, shortness of breath, confusion, trembling, and muscle tightness are all symptoms. Panic episodes are common and unpredictable and typically unrelated to external dangers. A panic attack might last from a few minutes to thirty minutes. On the other hand, the attack’s physical and emotional impacts may persist for several hours.
Panic attacks are pretty prevalent. It affects up to 35 percent of the population at some point in their lives. When your body is in imminent danger, your brain instructs the autonomic nervous system to initiate the flight-or-fight response. By flooding the body, various substances, including adrenaline, produce physiological changes. In preparation for a physical fight or flight, the heart and breathing rates rise, giving you more blood to your muscles.
A panic attack activates the “fight-or-flight” response without an immediate threat. Panic attacks can occur during seemingly innocuous and stress-free activities like watching television or napping.
Another typical trauma and stress response is dissociation. There are two types of dissociation:
- Depersonalization– It’s as if you see yourself as an actor in a movie. You may feel floating around your physical body during an out-of-body experience.
- Derealization– People and items in your environment appear almost surreal as if you are in a dream. The setting may seem “unnatural,” and sounds may be twisted.
Dissociation can impact memory, identity, perception of the world, and relationship to the physical body. These effects can be observed both during and after trauma exposure. The fight-or-flight response is usually initiated to protect you from catastrophic conditions. The freeze reaction is activated if fight-or-flight is not an option or if it becomes inactive due to the body feeling overwhelmed.
You may experience dissociation if you have no alternative but to detach your brain from your body to survive the incident. When captured by a cat, a mouse will “play dead” to optimize its chances of escaping alive.
While dissociation may be an efficient coping mechanism at the time, it may linger long after the trauma or stress, causing daily problems. When you come into contact with a circumstance or thing that consciously or unconsciously reminds your neurological system of the trauma, you may experience dissociation.
It is not unexpected that trauma and stress provoke intense mental and physical responses because they can affect the structure and function of the brain.
This is an entirely natural reaction to stressful situations; you can use it as a primary coping tool. Dissociation, however, can be problematic when it occurs frequently and intensely in unhelpful settings, causing discomfort and negatively damaging a young person’s life.
Sleep problems are typical after a distressing experience. Insomnia symptoms are frequently increased by alertness and hyperarousal caused by the body’s stress response. Many people have difficulty falling asleep after an unpleasant incident, wake up more regularly during the night, and struggle to fall back asleep. Trauma can also change the structure of sleep, affecting the body’s journey through the phases and cycles of sleep.
Dreams and nightmares are frequent stress and trauma responses. Trauma-related dreams directly reproduce the incident or incorporate trauma-related emotion, content, and symbols. Trauma-related dreams are generated by the brain’s anxiety reaction and hyperarousal, which may represent the mind’s attempt to absorb a painful experience.
Sleep problems after a traumatic experience can be stressful, but they may also give a significant opportunity for trauma treatment and recovery. Sleeping after a stressful experience may reduce unpleasant memories and make them less distressing. Targeting sleep issues early in trauma treatment may lessen the likelihood of developing traumatic stress.
Another stress issue is that it might trigger undesirable responses. Some people deal with drugs or alcohol, while others gamble or spend money they don’t have.
Trauma or trauma-related mental health conditions, such as PTSD, are frequently the reason for substance abuse. Many traumatized people turn to drugs or alcohol to deal with their feelings of fear or guilt. This is known as self-medication. Pain relievers, marijuana, and benzodiazepines are just a few examples of medications or alcohol that they will use to alleviate any pain caused by trauma exposure. These medications provide short respite by numbing emotional anguish or allowing the individual to avoid confronting ideas.
The problem is that when these medications wear off, people have extremely low moods and even painful withdrawal symptoms. This has the potential to exacerbate the symptoms of trauma-related disorders. To experience the fantastic, mind-altering effects of the drugs, you must consume them repeatedly. This is frequently when the addictive cycle begins.
Several studies have found that up to 75 percent of teenagers with substance misuse problems began using drugs after experiencing trauma. Because you lack good coping skills, you may use drugs or alcohol to “feel better.” A youngster who sees four or more traumatic incidents as a child, such as multiple episodes of physical abuse, is five times more likely than the general population to become an alcoholic and up to 46 times more likely to become an injection-drug user.
Almost 75 percent of people in drug treatment had experienced sexual or emotional trauma in their lives, making them more vulnerable to stress and trauma-induced addiction. More than half of these women are physically abused.
If you have experienced traumatic stress, you may find it more difficult to quit drinking and using drugs. You are more prone to develop drug cravings if you are exposed to memories of the unpleasant experience. Difficult emotions or memories might lead to drug addiction, preventing you from fully recovering. Instead of running from these traumatic emotions, you should face them. There are helpful drug addiction services in Coral Springs and in areas near you that will help you overcome this.
You should consider seeing a therapist if you have physical and mental trauma symptoms. It is not a sign of weakness to seek help dealing with stress and trauma. It is common to develop severe symptoms years after a stressful encounter. You will be one step closer to regaining control of your life if you seek help from a trained, sympathetic therapist.