What are the symptoms of Trauma?

Firstly, we need to be able to identify a traumatic event, to determine whether the symptoms of
trauma are present or not. So, what exactly is trauma? Trauma is a deeply distressing or disturbing
experience in which there is actual or threatened death, serious injury or sexual violence. It is
insignificant whether the event is in your distant past or a very recent event. It is an experience that
could possibly cause emotional distress.

Symptoms of trauma may manifest physically, behaviourally, emotionally or be present in our
thoughts. Let’s begin with the physical symptoms of trauma. Difficulty sleeping is a common
symptom. While there could also be other physical symptoms; physical pain, headaches and an
increased heart rate may also be evident. Chronic illnesses can also be exacerbated following a
traumatic event.

Lethargy could be predominant in the week following the trauma. During this time your body heals
from the adrenalin ‘rush’ and physical changes it went through to help you respond to the threat.
You do not need to have a physical injury to experience this lack of energy and enthusiasm for life
following the traumatic event.

Behavioural symptoms may impact on your relationships. Here you may want to withdraw from
those around you, you could experience changes in appetite, have an inability to rest or furthermore
pace up and down. Someone may even have changes in health care where personal self-care,
engaging in exercise or safe sex may become unimportant post-trauma.

The third set of symptoms are those belonging to the emotions. An individual could observe the
mood swings, irritability and anger that is out of character of the person. You might feel you are
always on the edge with a startle response to particular sounds, smells, touch or images. Denial,
guilt, and shame, can also be a common response to trauma, in particular where there’s domestic
violence or abuse involved. Depression, hopelessness, anxiety and stress are all indicators of the
trauma ‘haunting’ you.

Flashbacks, poor concentration and memory as well as impaired thinking could suggest altered
thought patterns. Dissociation, when someone seems absent from the world, is another mechanism
that is used to manage the overwhelming emotions experienced. Someone may even find it a
challenge to identify familiar faces, people or objects following the trauma.

In trying to regain a sense of control post-trauma, blaming the traumatic event on oneself or
someone else sometimes assists finding order in the chaotic situation that a person has experienced.
These initial responses to the traumatic events or experiences are common responses to the way the
traumatic event. There is no need to shy away from them or be afraid to share you struggles with
those around you.