Emotional trauma can last from a few days to a few months. Some people will recover from emotional trauma after days or weeks, while others may experience more long-term effects.
Even when symptoms have subsided, emotional trauma can cause painful memories or emotions long after the event, typically in response to certain triggers. Persistent symptoms that interfere with sleep, work, or relationships require the attention of a qualified psychiatrist.
What is emotional trauma?
Emotional or psychological trauma occurs when a person experiences stressful events that shatter their sense of security, making them feel deeply unsafe or helpless. Any event that elicits intense negative emotions can be traumatic, whether it is witnessing, hearing, or being involved in a traumatic event.
People who experience emotional trauma often struggle with upsetting emotions, memories, and anxiety that do not go away. It may leave them feeling numb, disconnected, and unable to trust others.
Childhood trauma can be especially long-lasting, since experiences in childhood affect a child’s brain development and impact how they view themselves and their environment. If the trauma is left unresolved, a sense of fear and helplessness can carry over into adulthood, setting the stage for further trauma.
What events can lead to emotional trauma?
Examples of events that can lead to emotional and psychological trauma include:
- One-time events, such as an accident, injury, or a violent attack
- Natural disasters
- Domestic violence, physical or emotional abuse, bullying, or childhood neglect
- Living in a crime-ridden neighborhood
- Battling a life-threatening disease
Commonly overlooked causes of emotional trauma include:
- Surgery, especially in the early years of life
- Sudden death of a loved one
- Broken relationships
- Humiliating or disappointing experiences, especially if they involve deliberate cruelty
What are the signs and symptoms of emotional trauma?
Emotional and psychological symptoms
- Shock, denial, disbelief
- Difficulty concentrating
- Anger, irritability, mood swings
- Anxiety and fear
- Guilt, shame, self-blame
- Withdrawal from others
- Feeling sad or hopeless
- Feeling disconnected or numb
How to heal from emotional trauma
The process of healing from emotional trauma differs for each individual, and works for one person may not work for another. While the best way to seek recovery is to talk to a qualified mental health expert, here are a few tips to help you cope with your symptoms:
- Get moving: Exercise can promote both physical and emotional well-being. Doing a few 10-minute exercise sessions throughout the day are a good place to start. Rhythmic exercises that involve your arms and legs are the best. Try focusing on your body as you are doing the movements.
- Connect with others: Avoid isolating from other people, because it only makes negative emotions worse. Connecting with others can help you heal. If speaking with friends or family makes you uncomfortable, seek the help of a counselor or therapist or another environment in which you can share your feelings without judgment.
- Practice mindfulness: When you feel confused or upset, practice mindful breathing to calm yourself down. Simply take deep breaths, focusing on each breath. You can also try yoga, meditation, or other mindfulness practices.
- Make healthy choices: Being physically healthy can help you cope better with emotional trauma and stress. Eat a balanced diet, get plenty of sleep, and avoid alcohol and smoking.
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American Psychological Association. Trauma. https://www.apa.org/topics/trauma
Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (US). Trauma-Informed Care in Behavioral Health Services. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2014. (Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 57.) Chapter 3, Understanding the Impact of Trauma. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK207191/
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