Experiencing a stressful or disturbing event can sometimes cause more damage than you think. Many people struggle with feeling hopeless, out-of-control, and unable to manage their emotions because an event has left them traumatized. Trauma can cause psychological issues that don’t seem to go away. After experiencing a traumatic event, it can take a long time to feel safe and able to move on from the pain.
Not all trauma is the same. It affects everyone differently and can leave its mark in different ways. Trauma often falls into one of two categories: large “T” trauma and small “t” trauma.
Large “T” Versus Small “t” Trauma
Trauma is a deeply personal experience that no one can define for someone else. It is a distressing experience that can impact the way you view and interact with the world around you. Almost everyone has experienced traumatic or painful events throughout their lives. Although the experience of trauma is completely subjective, there are generally two categories that trauma falls into: large T traumas and little t traumas.
Little t Traumas
Little t traumas are experiences that leave someone feeling hopeless. They are distressing events that can be beyond a person’s ability to cope, but they do not necessarily cause life-threatening or bodily-threatening outcomes. Some examples of little t traumas include:
- Legal trouble
- Having a child
- Conflict with a boss
- Financial difficulty
The most difficult aspect of dealing with these sorts of traumas is that there can be a tendency to overlook them. Some people write these traumas off because many people experience them. There is an inclination to instead view a person’s reaction as “dramatic” without considering how these experiences can impact a person’s overall well-being.
Additionally, little t traumas can cause damage on their own, but there can sometimes be an accumulating effect in which multiple small traumas occur within a short period of time. This can compound and create a significantly high amount of distress in a person.
Big T Traumas
Big T traumas are more often significant events that leave a person feeling powerless or hopeless. These events often cause a person to feel as though they have no control over their environment and can be readily identified as the source of the trauma. Others who have experienced the same form of trauma are able to easily relate and understand exactly what the person may be going through. Big T traumas are often life-threatening events such as:
- Natural disaster
- Terrorist attack
- Being in a combat or war zone
- Car or plane accident
- Sexual assault
- Physical injury
Big T traumas cause intense distress that interferes with a person’s ability to get through the day. Those who have experienced this type of trauma are more likely to engage in avoidant behavior to minimize contact with things that may serve as reminders and cause distress. They may avoid crowded places, ignore calls, and get rid of things that remind them of the trauma.
Healing from Trauma
Everyone reacts to trauma differently. Symptoms of trauma can last for a few days to several months, and even if the symptoms subside, you may find yourself in situations where you are triggered by things that remind you of it. In some cases, symptoms of trauma will not ease up or may worsen with time. This often indicates that your trauma has evolved into Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a much more severe reaction to trauma in which the mind and body has become “stuck” and is unable to move on from what happened.
Trauma can disrupt your ability to manage your daily responsibilities, but there are ways you can begin to heal from it.
- Get active: Exercising and finding recreational activities to engage in can help keep your mind from wandering. Instead, you can focus your thoughts and feelings on what you are actively doing. Exercising also releases feel-good endorphins that can help improve mood.
- Do not isolate yourself: Many who experience trauma withdraw from others, but this can make things worse. Surrounding yourself with people can help you face challenges and actively heal. Ask for help from loved ones and consider joining a trauma survivor group.
- Meditate: Trauma can cause you to feel out of control and may lead to feelings of panic when in stressful situations. Meditation can help you stay grounded, focus on your breathing, and balance your inner voice. It alleviates anxiety triggered by trauma and can help you learn to calm yourself.
- Prioritize your health: Do not use substances in an attempt to self-medicate for symptoms of trauma. Instead, prioritize your health by ensuring you get enough sleep, you are eating a well-balanced diet, and you are actively reducing sources of stress in your life. Make time for things you enjoy to help you relax.
- Seek professional help: While there are things you can do to ease symptoms of trauma, seeking professional help is often the best step. FInding a program or individual who offers trauma-informed care is key. If you are having trouble functioning at work, maintaining relationships, feel emotionally disconnected, or use substances to self-medicate, it is important to address your needs with the help of a professional. Working through trauma can be painful and scary, but it is often necessary to truly heal and regain control of your life.
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