What is trauma? Trauma can be one significant event or many smaller events that overwhelm our ability to function or cope. It is subjective and personal. This means that one person may experience a specific event as traumatic, while another in the same situation does not. We often see this dynamic in siblings who live through the same traumatic events but cope differently with the stressors.
When life is stable, we operate within a resilience zone, which means we can manage our day-to-day stress and emotions. Trauma throws us out of this resilience zone and activates a stress response in our nervous system. With a single or multiple traumatic events, our system remains hyperactive and overcharged, unable to return to that resilience zone.
Anxiety is different from trauma. For example, we may feel anxious driving after a minor accident. This is our sympathetic nervous system responding in a healthy way to a scary event. The response is short-lived, and we return to that resilience zone.
Trauma, however, often triggers our nervous system to become hyperactive. Our stress responses are always turned on. This makes it difficult to recover from the experience: we may feel on edge or hyper-vigilant.
We develop coping strategies to help us survive traumatic experiences. There are four main stress responses: fight, flight, freeze, or fawn. When trauma triggers a freeze response, for example, we are likely immobilized by the trauma. We may feel numb, foggy, isolated, have tunnel vision, or even feel disconnected from our body and its sensations. Think of the freeze response as playing dead. We typically see this in children who cannot fight or flight.
Trauma therapy can help you move out of a stress response and return to the resilience zone. It is about creating a safe space where you can calm your nervous system and establish healthy coping mechanisms. It is about reconnecting with yourself and your body to find peace, regulation, balance, and healing.
A trauma therapist can help you cope with the discomfort and stress of addressing traumatic experiences. This process takes time, but it is possible to heal from trauma. The goal of trauma therapy is to build your capacity for resilience, which allows you to better cope with stress, mood fluctuations, and life transitions.
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