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Facing the Aftermath of TraumaTrauma can come in many different forms, from physical and emotional abuse to natural disasters and man-caused incidents like car accidents. Moreover, traumatic events can happen once, multiple times, or occur as a set of chronic events throughout your life. When people in the general public and media talk about trauma, they often refer to the traumatic event itself and even its long-term impact. You may have seen stories of people talking in great detail about being in a hurricane, war zone, or other traumatic accident. However, in these stories about traumatic events, people do not often discuss the immediate aftermath of trauma.

At The Guest House, we know difficult life events informing trauma, grief, and stress are deeply connected to self-defeating behaviors. Your sense of self and safety is disrupted by trauma as your worldview unravels. Thus, self-defeating and self-destructive behaviors like substance misuse become more pronounced with traumas. Despite the physical and psychological distress of trauma, it can be difficult to recognize or acknowledge the long-term consequences of self-defeating behaviors on your well-being.

Every part of your life is impacted after you experience trauma. The traumatic event or events are distressing on their own, but everything that comes after it is equally distressing and harmful to your well-being. Your ability to function in your daily life is impeded by the aftermath of trauma as your sense of normal is disrupted. Trying to cope with the aftermath of trauma is even more difficult when you have to deal with the immediate ramifications of the trauma. Whether you have to recount the trauma to a doctor in the ER, police officers, a lawyer, or your loved ones, the aftermath of trauma makes getting through the day feel like an upward battle.

Thus, addressing the aftermath of trauma can have a profound impact on your ability to thrive in your life. Now you may question how understanding the aftermath of trauma in your life can be as important as the trauma. What can looking at your experiences, reactions, and interactions after trauma tell you about your health and wellness now? Moreover, how can addressing the aftermath of trauma support your long-term healing and recovery?

Common Reactions in the Aftermath of Trauma

While everyone’s experiences and reactions to trauma are unique to them, there are some common reactions you may experience in the aftermath of trauma. As the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) notes, trauma, regardless of type,  creates stress reactions that impact you psychologically and physically. Moreover, trauma alone does not result in a stress reaction; rather, stress reactions are your body’s response to the stressors you experience. For example, you can have a stress response before and after giving a big presentation at work or school.

However, not every stressor is inherently negative or distressing – even giving a presentation is not always distressing for everyone. Some people love the pressure of meeting deadlines and giving presentations. Similarly, riding a roller coaster can cause eustress or a positive type of stress that has a beneficial effect on your body and mind. Positive stress is exciting and energizing and motivates you to face challenges and cope in healthy ways.

Still, regarding negative stress, there are some common signs of distress that are easy to recognize, like pronounced and overwhelming anxiety. Here are some well-known stress reactions to the aftermath of trauma that you can recognize in yourself:

  • Relief to be alive/safe
  • Fear
  • Stress
  • Anger

Moreover, here are some other common stress reactions to trauma that you may not easily recognize as a response to traumatic events and experiences:

  • Feeling on guard all the time
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Being easily startled by sudden noises and movement
  • Problems at work and or school
  • Losing hope for your future
  • Feeling detached or less concerned about other people
  • Trying to avoid people, places, and things related to the trauma

The stress reactions of trauma highlight the sense of vulnerability you can feel in the aftermath of trauma. Thus, having to rehash your trauma over and over can feel like digging into a gaping wound. The increased distress in talking about your trauma so soon after it happened can overwhelm you and impede your ability to cope in healthy ways. When you grapple with the aftermath of trauma without support, it becomes easier to fall into self-defeating behaviors that are destructive to your life.

Addressing Long-Term Consequences in the Aftermath of Trauma

Your stress reactions are your way of trying to keep your head above the water and survive the onslaught of the psychological distress that stems from trauma. While your response to trauma feels incredibly uncomfortable and overwhelming, your survival behaviors and symptoms of trauma are not uncommon or even unusual. However, not understanding your own survival behaviors and feelings or trying to ignore your distress can be detrimental to your long-term well-being. As the VA notes, most trauma survivors are not familiar with how trauma can impact them. For instance, you may mistakenly think your trauma is your fault and or that something is wrong with you for the way you feel.

The unaddressed aftermath of trauma coupled with misunderstanding your symptoms can have long-term emotional, mental health, and physical consequences. Some of the longer-term or severe responses to different types of traumas include:

  • Physical health problems
  • Somatic concerns
  • Sleep problems
  • Complicated or prolonged grief
  • Acute stress disorder
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

The mental health disorders and other conditions that co-occur with trauma can further increase your distress. Further, your distress from unaddressed trauma and co-occurring physical and mental health disorders can lead to risky behaviors like substance use. You may turn to using substances like drugs and alcohol to alleviate your symptoms. Self-medicating with substances can temporarily create an illusion that makes you think you are feeling better.

However, the symptoms from your trauma and other co-occurring disorders always come back stronger than before. Substance use disorder (SUD) shares a bidirectional relationship with trauma and mental health disorders as substance use also causes changes to your brain that impair things like impulse control. If your thinking and impulse control are impaired, you are more likely to misuse substances, develop SUD, and exacerbate mental health symptoms.

Furthermore, in the aftermath of trauma, having to relive the traumatic event or events days or weeks after the trauma can feel devastating. Yet, when your trauma is left unaddressed, that sense of overwhelming distress from your trauma does not diminish. Experiencing prolonged distress from your trauma increases your risk for PTSD. According to the VA, approximately 6% or 6 out of every 100 people in the United States will have PTSD at some point in their life.

Reliving Trauma

In the aftermath of trauma, you can experience severe trauma PTSD symptoms like re-experiencing. Re-experiencing symptoms happen when you have the same mental, emotional, and physical experiences that occurred during the traumatic experience or in the immediate aftermath of trauma. Your re-experiencing symptoms can come in several different forms like thinking about your trauma or feeling the same physical sensations from the trauma. Listed below are some of the re-experiencing symptoms you can have in the aftermath of trauma and in PTSD:

  • Reoccurring bad dreams or nightmares
  • Upsetting and reoccurring memories related to the trauma
  • Flashbacks
    • Re-experiencing the trauma as if it is happening again
    • Can happen with or without a trigger
    • Last for a few seconds but the emotional aftereffects can linger for hours or longer
  • Distressing thoughts and reminders of the trauma
    • Can be triggered by something you hear, see, smell, taste, or feel
  • Difficulty concentrating or thinking clearly
  • Physical symptoms of distress
    • Feeling shaky and sweaty
    • Pounding heart
    • Difficulty breathing
    • Getting very startled by loud noises and something or someone coming up behind you
  • Constantly on the lookout for danger
  • Reenactment
    • You repetitively relive and recreate the trauma
      • Self-injurious behaviors,
      • Risky and self–destructive behaviors
        • Hypersexuality
        • Going to unsafe places
        • Driving recklessly
        • Repeatedly engaging in destructive relationships
  • Anxiety and fear of feeling in danger again
  • Agitating, angry, and aggressive feelings
  • Feeling an overwhelming need to defend yourself
  • Difficulty controlling emotions due to sudden anxiety, anger, and distress from reminders

The physical and psychological impact of re-experiencing symptoms is exhausting. You are unable to control your mental and physical symptoms to re-experiencing your trauma. Your symptoms invade every part and moment of your life as you find yourself worrying about trying to stay safe, even when you are not in danger. Feeling always on guard can lead you to respond to perceived threats with overly aggressive behavior. For example, if you were assaulted, you may be quicker to yell or hit someone you perceive as a threat.

Your symptoms in the aftermath of trauma are your mind and body’s attempt to cope with unimaginable experiences. Through learned stress responses, you can get stuck in a cycle of traumatic re-experiencing symptoms and behaviors. Seeking avoidance in the face of the overwhelming distress of re-experiencing symptoms and other trauma behaviors is understandable. Yet, engaging in avoidance behaviors and other maladaptive coping strategies like substance misuse are short-lived respites from your symptoms.

Without support, your trauma symptoms can persist for years after your trauma. Persistent unaddressed trauma comes with secondary or associated symptoms that impede your life. In the aftermath of trauma, the pain of relieving your trauma intensifies your re-experiencing and avoidance symptoms. For example, you may stop talking or spending time with family and friends because you do not want to talk or think about the trauma. Further, this self-isolation cuts you off from your support network and increases the risk for secondary symptoms like:

  • Social isolation
  • Depression
  • Feeling despair and or hopelessness
  • Self-blame, guilt, and shame
  • Engaging in aggressive behaviors toward yourself or others
  • Feeling detached or disconnected from others
  • Difficulty feeling close to or trusting others
  • Loss of interest in things you used to enjoy
  • Low self-esteem
  • SUD

Processing your trauma can be a deeply uncomfortable and challenging experience. However, taking steps to address the aftermath of trauma can be an empowering part of your recovery. Addressing trauma can help you recognize the relationship between your trauma and your self-defeating behaviors. Through increased self-awareness and self-understanding, you can build adaptive tools to support your long-term healing.

Learning How to Cope With the Aftermath of Trauma

As noted in “Resilience: Safety in the Aftermath of Traumatic Stressor Experiences” by Kimberly Matheson et al., in the aftermath of trauma, safety and reassurance are important tools for your long-term well-being. In the aftermath of trauma, your sense of safety and agency in the world is shattered. So, how do you recover your sense of safety and reassurance that there is life beyond trauma? An important step toward regaining safety and reassurance is through building resilience.

Resilience is your ability to mentally and emotionally adapt to challenging life experiences. Fostering resiliency can be a process of adjustment, transformation, and growth that supports your well-being before, during, and after difficult experiences. During and in the aftermath of trauma, resiliency gives you the capacity to find healthy coping strategies to process and recover from your trauma. However, resiliency is not a static way of being; rather, resilience is built on a variety of experiences and adaptive processes that develop throughout your life.

Resiliency alone will not prevent you from feeling distress in the face of challenges in your life. Everyone faces challenges throughout life that make you feel a wide range of emotions like stress, anger, sadness, and worry. However, building resiliency can be another tool in your toolbox to help you build adaptive coping skills to work through and bounce back from those challenges. It is never too late to start dismantling unhealthy coping strategies to build resilience for your long-term well-being.

Listed below are some of the ways you can build resilience and healthy coping skills to manage your symptoms and recover from trauma:

  • Lean on your loved ones for support
  • Prioritize spending time with your loved ones
  • Find support in your community
    • Join a group
      • Civic groups
      • Faith-based communities
      • Hobby groups
  • Prioritize self-care
    • Proper nutrition
    • Exercise
    • Stay hydrated
    • Sleep routine
    • Mindfulness
      • Yoga
      • Meditation
  • Maintain important routines in your life
    • Eating, sleeping, and exercise routines
  • Rediscover your purpose
    • Spend time helping others
      • Volunteer work
      • Support a friend or family member in their time of need
      • Invest in self-discovery by building your problem-solving coping skills
        • How can you best support your well-being
  • Set realistic goals for yourself
    • Relish accomplishments, big and small
    • Do not try to take on more than you can handle
      • Take things one step at a time
  • Avoid drug and alcohol use
  • Acknowledge your feelings
  • Be patient with yourself

Thinking about trying to dismantle the self-defeating behaviors that have gripped your life can feel overwhelming. Dismantling self-defeating and self-destructive behaviors can feel especially distressing if you have spent most of your life relying on unhealthy coping strategies. However, remember recovery does not happen overnight.

Thus, having patience for yourself on your journey to recovery is an important part of healing. Additionally, you do not have to take on recovery on your own. Reaching out for support from your loved ones and seeking recovery services can give you the support you need to lead a fulfilling life in long-term recovery.

Healing From Trauma With Holistic Support at The Guest House

At The Guest House, we believe in taking a holistic approach to care to support your healing in mind, body, and spirit. Our expert clinicians and co-founders are well-versed in the intersecting relationship between trauma, SUD, and mental health disorders. Many difficulties with mental health disorders and SUD can be traced back to unaddressed trauma. Thus, we are committed to providing whole-person care that addresses your specific experiences and needs to recover from trauma and other co-occurring disorders.

We have built our treatment model on providing multidimensional and personalized treatment to meet you where you are on your journey to recovery. Through our holistic and evidence-based approach to care, you have access to a wide variety of therapeutic modalities that you can explore. At The Guest House, you are given the space you need to engage in self-discovery and healing as you work in collaboration with your clinicians to discover the therapeutic modalities that are most effective for your long-term wellness. Some of the therapeutic modalities you can utilize to address trauma include:

  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
  • Brainspotting
  • Somatic therapy

With a variety of therapies and modalities at The Guest House, you have the freedom to customize, mix, and match your treatment plan to fit your life and needs. Recovery is not a one-size-fits-all approach, so we are committed to creating a space based on love, kindness, and compassion to support you through every stage of your recovery journey.

The aftermath of trauma leads to stress reactions that impede your ability to function. Relieving your trauma through conversations, images, dreams, and memories coupled with avoidance can lead to mental health disorders. Moreover, prolonged distress presents re-experiencing and avoidance symptoms that contribute to the development of other detrimental conditions like depression and SUD. However, you can dismantle self-defeating behaviors and recover from trauma by fostering resilience with adaptive coping skills. Thus, at The Guest House, we are committed to supporting your long-term healing with holistic care. With whole-person care, you can explore a wide variety of customizable therapeutic modalities to find the right treatment plan for your specific needs. Call us at (855) 483-7800 today.