Following a traumatic experience, it is common for individuals to continue to feel unsafe emotionally, and to suffer from various types of anxiety-induced physiological and psychological disturbances.
These might include:
- Re-experiencing the trauma (eg flashbacks where it feels like they are experiencing the trauma again);
- Sleep disturbances (eg nightmares, difficulties in falling asleep due to anxiety, insomnia);
- Negative thoughts and feelings;
- Depressed mood;
- Social withdrawal.
Anxiety and other strong emotional disturbances may be triggered when the individual is exposed to any reminders of the trauma, as well as when they think about or remember the trauma. This may even have a negative impact on their day to day life, and may result in a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or acute stress disorder.
What is Trauma?
Trauma is the term given to the emotional, mental and physical responses we have experience due to being involved in – or even just witnessing – events, conditions and/or situations, which may be perceived to be dangerous, threatening and/or harmful.
There are some variations in what we define as “trauma” because what people perceive to be threatening can be different. Nevertheless, there are some events, conditions and situations that are consider traumatic experiences by most of us:
- Accidents (eg car or plane crashes);
- Physical and psychological violence and abuse from others;
- Natural disasters (eg flooding, fire, earthquake);
- Humiliation or embarrassment in public.
Why Do We Suffer Anxiety After Trauma?
Anxiety after trauma can be persistent, and difficult to overcome even after a long period of time, due to the following reasons:
- Our brain is wired to more easily remember negative experiences, than positive experiences, for survival purposes.
- Anxiety can easily become stronger and generalized to different situations, when people continue to avoid anxiety triggering situations, events and conditions.
- The reactions to trauma are often automatic and can even occur subconsciously. People can become highly stressed and anxious even when they do not remember the experience of trauma, because it can be automatically stored into brain memory and can be subconsciously activated.
- Negative emotional reactions are persistent. The disturbances of trauma can continue even when people completely understand that they are no longer in danger and are not likely to experience the same situation again.
The reason trauma and anxiety can persist, is that our logical thinking and our emotional reactions are controlled by different regions in the brain (the prefrontal cortex and limbic systems). When people are highly stressed and anxious, the power of the emotional reactions overtakes logical thinking. As our brain was developed to ensure survival, it is not easy for our brain to let go of traumatic memory.
Overcoming Trauma and Anxiety
While some people can naturally overcome trauma and anxiety, others may struggle with it and find it has a significant negative impact on daily life. Therefore, it is often useful to work with mental health professionals such as a psychologist, who can provide counselling and strategies to assist in overcoming anxiety after trauma.
Author: Yu Takizawa, B Sc (Hons), M Couns, M App Psych.
Yu Takizawa is a Brisbane psychologist, fluent in both English and Japanese. He is particularly interested in offering counselling and psychotherapy services to people who are facing cultural challenges, or problems with anxiety.
To make an appointment with Brisbane Psychologist Yu Takizawa, you can try Online Booking – Mt Gravatt or call Vision Psychology (Mt Gravatt) by freecalling 1800 877 924.