stressed black man with dreadlocks in psychological office

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Most people experience trauma at some point in their lives. For many, it is an unpleasant transient experience, but for others, it is something that can last for many years, sometimes their entire lives.

The 9/11 attacks, for instance, killed thousands of people and wounded many others. What’s more, it was high-profile enough to affect the lives of millions of people, including children who were shocked by how events unfolded. 

However, big events like these aren’t the only source of trauma. Many people experience the lingering effects on their psyche from far more mundane experiences, such as being left alone as a child, or shouted at for something they have no control over. 

Traumatic Responses

Emotional reactions to trauma differ between people. Usually, they are the result of direct experience of a dangerous or frightening event. However, they sometimes come about after simply witnessing something bad, whether in real life or through the media. 

Responses can include:

  • A sense of being numb or unable to see how anything in life matters
  • Insomnia or disrupted sleep
  • Feeling worried or guilty all the time without an obvious source
  • Having a constant need to stay busy, even  if there is nothing to do
  • Medicating with excessive food or drinking, or feeling the need to smoke or take prescription drugs even if you are not sick

Collectively, the country is becoming more traumatized because of recent widely publicized events. Hurricanes, the pandemic, wildfires and increased concerns about climate change are all contributing to the collective sense of doom. Add to this domestic politics and you have a context in which people are far more likely to enter a state of trauma than before. 

With that said, some institutions are fighting back and trying to prevent trauma from becoming a long-term pathology. The Eva Carlston Academy, for instance, is taking young women and looking for ways to help them process their trauma so that it doesn’t follow them into adulthood. They want to prevent many of the maladaptive coping strategies and behaviors that often accompany trauma, such as gambling, overeating, excessive sleeping, or binge-watching TV shows. 

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The Long-Term Effects Of Trauma

If trauma is allowed to develop and continue, it can have some long-term effects in adults leading to multiple physical problems throughout the body. Many people report headaches and gastrointestinal issues, but there are more concerns than this. 

The main problem appears to be cortisol. When the body releases the stress hormone, it has knock-on effects on metabolism long-term, leading to a host of health conditions. These include: 

  • Depression
  • Trouble sleeping
  • High blood pressure
  • Higher risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Problems with concentration and memory
  • Excessive weight gain

The effects of depression not only affects a person’s body, but also their social and economic life. Researchers found that people who witnessed the 9/11 attacks, for instance, actually wound up earning less than people who didn’t, simply because of the effects that it had on their minds. 

In summary, traumatic events can have a dramatic impact on our minds, which is why it is so critical to process them quickly. 

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