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Trauma and Stress

What are stress and trauma from a psychological lens?

 

The impact of chronic stress and traumatic events  are not the same for everyone because each person has their own level of resiliency and their own risk factors. Resiliency and risk factors could be genetic, environmental, social, physiological, psychological, financial, and spiritual -  to name a few.

 

Trauma from a psychological lense can result from any instance when your nervous system (physiology) reacts as if your survival is threatened.  Emotional and psychological trauma can be caused by single, one-time events, such as a horrible accident, a natural disaster, sexual assault, or a violent attack. Trauma can also stem from ongoing relentless stress such as living in an unsafe environment, childhood neglect, chronically problematic relationships, or struggling with a life-impacting health diagnosis. In general, any single or sustained event can lead to symptoms of being overwhelmed or dysregulated when :

 

  • It happened unexpectedly.

  • You were unprepared for the event.

  • You felt powerless to prevent the event.

  • It happened repeatedly.

  • Someone was intentionally cruel.

  • It happened in childhood.

 

Often overlooked causes of symptoms of nervous system dysregulation are:

 

  • Standard surgeries or other medical/dental procedures, especially for children

  • Diagnoses of life threatening or life altering diseases/disorders (cancer, emergency surgery,injury, etc.)

  • A feeling of captivity or powerlessness that lasts for an extended period of time, such as an emotionally or physically abusive relationship

  • Falls or sports injuries

  • A humiliating or deeply disturbing event, such as the loss of job or the sudden loss of social rank

  • Sudden loss, injury or illness diagnosis of a loved one

  • Loss of a job or abusive work environment

  • Financial devestation

  • Being raised by a traumatized or mentally ill caregiver

  • Childhood and long term neglect

  • Sudden break up or demise of a relationship

  • Vehicular accidents

  • Feelings of chronic threat, such as with racism and bigotry

  • First Responders' repeated exposure to others' trauma (vicarious trauma)

 

The common denominator of trauma is a internal fear, helplessness, loss of control and a threat of annihilation.  Traumatic events do not require physical injury or threat.  

 

Experiencing symptoms of dysregulation from stress and trauma can be confusing especially when you do not know the "source" of the problem.  It is very important to note that good trauma therapy does not try to find the source of the trauma or "dig around" to find forgotten memories.  Good trauma therapy works with the symptoms and sensations of feeling overwhelmed because trauma is due to the reactions of the nervous system of the individual and not in the story of the event.  

Continue to read about how the nervous system regulates our wellness, what trauma symptoms can look like and how we can work towards healing our mind and body.