Emotional traumas can come in many forms, and living in our current uncertain times, where stress is inevitable and is perceived as uncontrollable can cause the same emotional trauma today as used to be attributed to men returning from war.
The ability to recognize emotional trauma has changed radically over the course of history. The women’s movement in the 1960s broadened the definition of emotional trauma to include physically and sexually abused women and children. Now, because of the discoveries made in the ’90s – known as the decade of the brain – psychological trauma has further broadened its definition.
According to Centerstone, recent research has revealed that emotional trauma can result from such common occurrences as an auto accident, the breakup of a significant relationship, a humiliating or deeply disappointing experience, the discovery of a life-threatening illness or disabling condition, or other similar situations. Traumatizing events can take a serious emotional toll on those involved, even if the event did not cause physical damage.
Regardless of its source, an emotional trauma contains three common elements:
- It was unexpected
- The person was unprepared
- There was nothing the person could do to prevent it from happening
As with many situations, it is not the situation itself but the person’s perception of the event that can cause the issue. Different people have learned and used different coping mechanisms, and their resiliency may differ. What seems nearly catastrophic to one person is a setback but is kept in perspective by another.
One way to tell the difference between experiencing stress or emotional trauma is by looking at the outcome – how much residual effect an upsetting event has on our lives, relationships and overall functioning. Traumatic distress can be distinguished from routine stress by assessing the following:
- How quickly you become upset
- How frequently you become upset
- How intensely threatened you feel by the event
- How long the feelings last
- How long it takes to calm down
But the rapid-fire events that many of us are experiencing in our lives today can be cumulative in nature. An event that you did not expect and was not directly impactful to you may still lead to a traumatic experience when it is on top of other events in close succession.
The recent failure of Silicon Valley Bank is a prime example. While many non-technology companies and investors did not have funds in SVB, the failure of the institution, which has been around since 1983, concerns people, especially when they hear that another 3-4 banks are likely to experience insolvency in short order and no one is rushing to bail SVB out.
If you find yourself experiencing extreme stress, the below coping mechanisms could help; if not, please seek professional help. There are many excellent virtual, online counselors, such as through Talkspace that can help you work through these issues so they do not disrupt your life.
- Talk about it. By talking with others about the event, you can relieve stress and realize that others share your experience and feelings.
- Spend time with friends and family. They can help you through this tough time. If your family lives outside the area, stay in touch by phone if possible. If you have children, encourage them to share their feelings and concerns with you.
- Take care of yourself. Get as much rest and exercise as possible. Try to continue any religious practices or centering activities.
- Take one thing at a time. Getting things back to normal can seem impossible. Break the job up into doable tasks. Complete that task first and then move on to the next one. Completing each task will give you a sense of accomplishment and make things seem less overwhelming.
- If you can, help. Give blood; help prepare meals for others, including the elderly. Volunteer to help clean up or rebuild your community. Read to children in the shelter. Helping others can give you a sense of purpose in a situation that feels beyond control.
- Avoid drugs and excessive drinking. Drugs and alcohol may seem to help you feel better, but in the long run, they generally create additional problems that compound the stress you’re already feeling.
- Ask for help if you need it. You may want to talk with a mental health professional to discuss how well you are coping with recent events. You could also join a support group. Don’t try to go it alone. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength and allows you to feel back in control.