Have you experienced any of the following in your life recently?
- A stressful or dangerous event in which your life was threatened or you witnessed the death or serious injury of another person
- You were involved in a car accident, rape, assault, war, crime, fire, or man made/natural disaster, etc.
- You experienced betrayal, psychological abuse, an unexpected and abrupt life change, or a situation that produced intense fear?
- Due to this extremely stressful event you have been experiencing intense or abnormal reactions such as vivid memories or flashbacks of the event, intrusive thoughts, sudden angry outbursts, consistent lack of sleep, panic attacks, inability to relax, or avoidance of people, places, and things that remind you of the traumatic event
Life is full of stressful events and life changes, however, some of these events impact us more than others. Some stress is healthy, such as the stress of beginning a new job or bringing your first child into the world. Other stress is negative such as losing a loved one, or facing financial burden. Other life events are deemed traumatic if they bring intense, recurring reactions following the event.
Typically, a traumatic experience consists of a life threatening event or serious injury, or witnessing the death or serious injury of another person. Common traumatic events include: car accidents, sexual assault, the death of a loved one, war, terrorist attacks, house fires (or other natural disasters), or crime.
When do I know it is time to seek a therapist?
Those who experience a traumatic event may stop noticing symptoms in a few weeks or months, however, some trauma can have lasting impact. Symptoms to look out for following a traumatic event include: re-experiencing the event through memories and intrusive thoughts, hypervigilance and hyperarousal, and avoidance of people, places, or things that remind you of the event.
Re-experiencing the traumatic event may look or feel like constant memories or thoughts of the event. This re-experiencing can bring intense anxiety and lead to hyperarousal such as feeling like you are constantly in danger, irritability, panic attacks, or obsessing over what you could have done to prevent the traumatic event.
Additionally, another sign that it is time to seek therapy are behaviors of avoidance such as purposely distancing yourself from things, people and places that remind you of the event. Avoidance can also include numbing one’s self in efforts to “turn off” the memories or feelings attached to the trauma. Avoidance can lead to feeling separated from one’s body, or coping behaviors such as drinking or drug use to distract from the pain.
How will a therapist help me?
Working with a therapist in a noncritical, empathetic, and safe environment can allow you to healthily process the traumatic event along with the feelings and memories that come with it. Emotional and behavioral reactions to a traumatic event can feel consuming and impact every area of your life, and a therapist can walk with you through each step, teaching you how to cope with and confront your trauma in the way that is best for you.
Therapy can help you gain a sense of control over your life again through learning healthy coping strategies, maintaining a routine, connecting with your support group, and engaging in relaxing and fulfilling activities. Your therapist can work with you to confront anxiety or depression caused by the event, and manage traumatic triggers to reduce these symptoms over time. Additionally, by learning how to manage reactions to trauma triggers, you will gain a sense of resilience and self confidence.
By giving yourself the opportunity to process and confront your trauma with a therapist, you are also giving yourself the space to learn how to accept the things of which you do not have control. Trauma can make you feel out of control, which can cause intense fear of the unexpected, however, a therapist can help get your sense of peace back by helping you come to terms with unpredictability again.