Along with “triggered,” the word “trauma” has become a bit of a buzzword in recent years. For many, the word “trauma” seeks to give validity to those who have suffered unpleasant experiences, such as childhood poverty. However, overusing the word is problematic from a psychological standpoint, and undermines the experiences of those who have lived through traumatic events that they must heal from.
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines trauma as “an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape, or natural disaster.” Thus, every time someone claims that they were “traumatized” by poor customer service or having to wear hand-me-down clothing as a child, it effectively minimizes post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) itself. Make no mistake, true trauma can result in serious and long-lasting mental health conditions.
But advocating for a stop to the overuse of the word “trauma” is only part of the solution when it comes to PTSD the state of mental health in America. Instead of focusing on the actual trauma itself, more focus should be given to the process of healing and treatment. By doing so, victims may be better able to take actionable steps in living with their trauma.
Trauma as a Mental Health Condition
Traumatic experiences are more common than you may think. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that a full 90% of patients in public behavioral health care settings have experienced a traumatic event. However, only a fraction of those who experience trauma during their lifetime develop a mental health condition as a result.
Among those who do, trauma often manifests as depression, anxiety, and/or stress. And those primary symptoms may be at the core of trauma’s overuse problem. For instance, studies show that Generation Z, those born from about 1997 to 2012, typically face chronic stress that looks an awful lot like trauma on the surface. Further, Gen Zers are “more likely to have direct mental and physical health problems” as a result of stressful situations including increasing gun violence, massive debt, and our volatile political climate.
While the state of American politics and a nosediving national economy are indeed mentally stressful, these types of events shouldn’t be labeled as traumatic. At the very least, however, the plight of over-stressed young people may help open the door towards the widespread treatment of stress. By advocating for more accessible stress-relief treatment, trauma victims and stressed out Gen Zers alike may be able to improve their mental health.
How Trauma Patients Can Better Manage Stress
Fortunately, there are a number of stress-management tools available to the general public, many of which can be practiced at home. Managing stress likely looks different for trauma survivors than it does for those who are simply anxious and stressed out by life, however. It may be necessary to learn healthy ways to process an unpleasant experience that ultimately caused deep-seated trauma.
Of course, trauma survivors who simply aren’t ready to face their experiences head on can still work to better manage anxiety and stress. Some people find relief from their symptoms by practicing mindfulness meditation or exercising regularly. Others find solace in the company of loved ones, strengthening bonds and developing deeper personal connections.
It’s important to note that trauma treatment looks different for everyone. Generally speaking, treatment is a multifaceted endeavor that may include some type of trauma-focused psychotherapy along with pharmaceutical medications to help manage symptoms. Common medications prescribed to trauma survivors include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and anti-anxiety drugs.
Healing from Traumatic Events
Of course, medications can only do so much to help trauma survivors. While they’re ideal for symptom management, true healing can only occur by addressing the root of the trauma, which is typically a painful and difficult process. Interestingly, for some trauma patients, their negative experiences become a cornerstone of their identity.
Trauma patients may be unable to see themselves as separate from what happened to them, and the growing trauma-informed care (TIC) model may be able to counter those types of thoughts. TIC aims to help survivors cultivate a greater sense of control and emotional safety. And emotional safety is imperative to mental health, especially in modern society.
We live in stressful times, where our financial security may be unstable and our job causes high stress on a daily basis. While mental stress can indeed manifest in the forms of anxiety, depression, and insomnia, it’s not enough by itself to truly be considered trauma. Thus, you wouldn’t be able to hold your employer responsible for mental injuries sustained on the job, for instance.
In fact, by equating workplace stress with serious traumatic events like rape or armed combat, you effectively become part of the problem rather than the solution. It’s time to change our perception of what trauma means, and stop using the word as a catch-all for the daily stressors in our lives. In doing so, and by harnessing additional treatment solutions, humanity can better promote a culture of safety, empowerment, and healing for trauma survivors.
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