People who survive a traumatic event may experience several common symptoms afterward. These symptoms can last for weeks, months, or even years.
These symptoms can be debilitating and may result in additional issues, like self-medication and drug addiction, if ignored. For the best results, we recommend exploring trauma treatment sooner than later.
In this article, we’re exploring some of the most common symptoms of trauma in adults.
Symptoms of Trauma in Adults
Symptoms of trauma can be similar to going through the stages of grief, but with repeating cycles and unpredictable order. Unlike with the desired outcome of the grief cycle, however, that final stage of acceptance and resolution of the trauma proves to be persistently elusive. While the initial experience of a traumatic event is likely to involve a sense of shock or disbelief, signs of lasting trauma very often mimic the symptoms of multiple diagnosable health disorders.
When seeking a mental or physical health diagnosis from a professional, be sure to include any information regarding the experience of a traumatic event prior to your onset of symptoms.
Here are 10 symptoms of trauma in adults.
Depressive Symptoms of Trauma
Symptoms of trauma can often be disguised as symptoms of a Major Depressive Disorder (MDD.) With MDD, a person is likely to have difficulty letting go of the past and looking forward to a better future. Inability to properly process and move past a traumatic event can also keep a person stuck in the past.
Learn more about the benefits of depression treatment.
1. Feeling Sad and Hopeless
Feelings of persistent sadness and hopelessness are the number one factor in receiving a diagnosis of MDD. These are also symptoms that are associated with trauma. Experiencing a traumatic event can rob a person of the inspiration for life that is necessary for moving forward. It can cloud the future, and make the present seem pointless.
2. Experiencing Guilt and Shame
A big factor in feeling stuck in the past is a sense of regret about the way that things turned out. A person who has experienced trauma may rationally know that he or she did not cause the trauma to happen, but the nagging feeling of bearing some responsibility can persist. If a person can find even one shred of evidence that he or she may be to blame, the risk of experiencing debilitating guilt and shame is even higher.
When we are walking around under a dark cloud of feeling guilty or ashamed, it can feel as though everyone else can clearly see it. As a result, we may be tempted to withdraw from our social engagements, and spend our time fighting our demons, alone. The downside to this lone wolf mentality is that a lack of social support can actually exacerbate the symptoms of depression.
4. Going Numb
It can be easier to feel nothing than to feel terrible. When we cut off connection with our negative feelings, we run the risk of also cutting off our emotions when it comes to enjoying the positive ones. The inability to experience any form of pleasure is called anhedonia, and it is often diagnosed as a sort of milder form of MDD.
Anxious Symptoms of Trauma
Just as difficulty adjusting to trauma can be disguised as depression, it can also end up being diagnosed as an anxiety disorder. It can be so similar to anxiety, in fact, that the main diagnosis for trauma – Post-traumatic Stress Disorder – was only recently reclassified out of the category of anxiety, and into its own section for trauma-related disorders.
Learn more about the benefits of anxiety treatment.
5. Difficulty Concentrating
A hallmark of anxiety is the inability to focus on the tasks at hand. With anxiety, the brain is in constant flight-or-fight mode. This means that mental resources that are necessary to attend to mundane work tasks or pay attention to the conversation around the dinner table are diverted to being on alert for danger. A person who has experienced trauma can find it difficult to convince the brain that the danger has passed.
6. Mood Swings
A person who is on edge for danger all the time is also likely to become easily annoyed. Becoming angry and irritated over small things and at the drop of a hat is due to the mental energy that is being sapped out of you by your flight-or-fight response being in overdrive. It is hard to have patience for normal interactions when your body and brain are screaming at you, constantly.
7. Nightmares and Insomnia
When it comes to the anxiety of trauma, nightmares and insomnia go hand-in-hand. The anxious mind does not tend to shut off just because you decide to get some sleep. It will keep running during your sleep cycles and will insist upon bringing the most horrible of imagery and situations to your dream world. Insomnia can result from both trying to avoid the nightmares, and from failing to get your anxious brain to tone down long enough to enter sleep, to begin with.
Physical Symptoms of Trauma
As if the negative effects of trauma on mental health weren’t bad enough, responses to trauma can also take a toll on your physical health.
The physical effects of persistent mental stress on the body have been related to several chronic health conditions, including high blood pressure and heart disease. A person who is suffering from the effects of lasting trauma is under a constant state of physical stress.
Discover the benefits of trauma-informed yoga.
Not only is someone suffering from a lack of adjustment to trauma likely to be experiencing disruptions in sleep schedules, but the constant state of being on alert is physically draining. This combination of lack of quality sleep and constantly being on edge is likely to result in feeling as though the physical energy tank is constantly empty.
9. Aches and Pains
Another component of being in flight-or-fight mode is that your muscles are charged with the energy necessary to run away or engage in combat. If neither of these actions is taken, that means that physical energy is being held in limbo. As a result, a person in this state is likely to experience the discomfort that comes from chronic muscle tension. This can mean ending up with an aching back, stiff neck, and pinched nerves.
10. Intestinal Distress
Something that doesn’t tend to be common knowledge is that our digestive systems are extremely sensitive to feelings of anxiety. When we are in danger, it isn’t the time to be using our energy to digest food and take leisurely trips to the restroom. The digestive tract can be overstressed by the brain’s signals of distress which accompany reaction to trauma, resulting in issues such as embarrassing bouts of diarrhea and uncomfortable periods of constipation.
Now that you’re more familiar with the common symptoms of trauma in adults, you can take steps forward to recovery. Everyone is different, so it’s best to start with an initial evaluation with a professional. An evaluation will determine the symptoms you’re experiencing and inform the best path forward to recovery.