6 Signs of Physical and Emotional Trauma (and How To Address Them)

Signs of Physical and Emotional Trauma (and How To Address Them)

We all know the toll traumatic, catastrophic events have on life. Trauma also comes in the form of recurring and persistent experiences. This includes living in areas with high crime, chronic illness, homelessness, bullying, neglect, abuse, and more. Because trauma has many forms and looks different in each person, it is hard to describe a specific presentation.

Some people come away from tragedies both emotionally and physically injured. Others experience injuries which seem purely physical in nature but are also emotionally traumatizing. A physical injury can leave you feeling helpless, dependent, restless, depressed, and irritable. Add emotional injury to this and you’re left feeling a shell of your former self. On the contrary, you may recover with seemingly no issues.

Those recently exposed to trauma may be currently experiencing these signs and symptoms and not even know it. Here are 6 signs of physical and emotional trauma you should be aware of.

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1) Unexplained aches and pains

Constant aches and pains that seem to come out of nowhere often point to an outside issue. While small aches may increase with age in the absence of a specific problem, persistent and worsening pain points to the start of a chronic problem. Even small aches and pains may get out of hand if they are not addressed when they start, making short-term problems turn into long-term health issues.

When health issues such as long-term pain develop, they are difficult to address. Increasing your awareness of and attention to minor issues is an important way to engage in preventive efforts.

What you can do about your aches and pains

Gentle stretching and light exercising both help to lessen these pains. Consult your doctor if the pain worsens to the point where exercising is painful, as exercising in the presence of pain can be harmful. Natural menthol body rubs relieve basic muscle tension and provide cooling aromas which can also relax you.

2) Trouble sleeping

A drastic change in your sleep patterns is another sign of unresolved trauma within the body. If this persists, it impacts the body’s circadian rhythms which wreaks further havoc on hormone levels, bodily functions, and more.

Difficulty sleeping may lead to poor function in relationships, work, or school, along with mood changes. Persistent sleep loss impacts stress hormone levels and may be difficult to reverse.

Unfortunately, even for a short period of time, have difficulty sleeping has an impact on other bodily symptoms. In some cases, this contributes to the development of chronic mental health problems such as anxiety and depressive disorders.

What you can do about your difficulty sleeping

Getting in a good bedtime routine is the key to a good night’s sleep. If you have trouble falling asleep, melatonin is a natural, non-habit forming supplement which helps.

Listening to soothing classical music or nature sounds, using a sleep mask, and drinking herbal tea or hot water with lemon can all help calm you before going to bed. While eating large meals before bed is discouraged, a small snack with magnesium helps relax muscles and calms your body in preparation for sleep.

3) Changes in appetite

Sharp increases in appetite or near-total loss of appetite both point toward the body’s response to trauma. Often changes in appetite result from high-stress levels. With this in mind, awareness of no longer having an appetite can lead to anxiety, especially if the source is unknown.

What you can do about your appetite swing

To halt a major increase in appetite, try filling up on water. Water helps to curb your appetite and fill you up, especially when you drink several glasses during mealtime. On the other hand, incorporating green tea into your diet can help boost metabolism and improve your appetite.

Try experimenting with cooking new, healthy meals with a protein-base and lots of fresh vegetables. Use raw vegetables with oil and vinegar as snacks. Vegetables have loads of fiber and are metabolized rather quickly, meaning they are good for maintaining a healthy balance within the body.

4) Low motivation

If any of these other symptoms are prevalent for even a short period of time, they will impact your motivation. A loss of motivation impacts performance in social roles, work roles, and educational roles. It can also make it difficult to fulfill a caregiver role or engage in leisure activities. If not addressed, this will cause a decrease in activity levels and an overall decline in emotional and physical health.

Changes in routine are not a bad thing, so it is okay to have fluctuations in how much you participate in daily activities, especially after something traumatic has occurred. However, if low motivation persists, and you notice yourself having difficulty taking time for yourself, this points to a more serious problem.

What you can do about your low motivation

Try activities you haven’t practiced in a while to regenerate your energy levels. This includes reinvesting time in old hobbies, such as crafts, hiking, and gardening. Furthermore, any activities that get you out in nature help uplift your spirits and connect you with your roots. Seek conversation about things that you are passionate about. This sparks new ideas and revives hobbies you fell out of touch with.

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5) Mood changes

Mood changes may include an increase in irritability, anxiety, unexplained sadness, heightened startle response, apathy, and more. Irritability is especially a natural response if you are not sleeping well and beginning to experience pain. However, if any of these mood changes worsen or continue, they cause an overall decline in health.

Unfortunately, mood changes such as these also play a large role in your social relationships. Negative feelings can cause you to act like a totally different person. They even can cause you to isolate yourself as a result of fear of judgment.

What you can do about mood changes

The important thing to remember is to seek assistance from social networks who are supportive, as toxic interactions will only worsen mood changes. Connect with positive friends who understand you. Try journaling as a way to get out feelings and frustrations. Ask your friends for their support, patience, and understanding during your difficult time and thank them for being there for you.

6) Isolation

Closing yourself off from the outside world is sometimes a natural reaction to deeper issues. This does not mean it is a healthy reaction, as it often leads to long-term changes in mood.

If you are someone who is typically very social and always interacting with people, it is a cause for concern if you are suddenly no longer seeing anyone. Staying inside, not changing clothes, and not interacting with anyone for days all indicate deeper changes in your health. Isolation has a connection with negative side effects in both physical and emotional well-being.

What you can do about isolation

Continue connecting with positive friends who support you. Ask them to do something fun but low-key to get you out of the house. If you are not yet feeling ready to leave the house and be around crowds, ask your friends to come to your house and spend time. This is a good step to feeling accepted and understood.

Then take baby steps toward engaging in outside activities again. If you are feeling strongly averse to leaving your house and feel as if your isolation may have a deeper source, consult your doctor. This is often a sign of a mental health issue that can impact your quality-of-life if not addressed.

Conclusion

In the end, those who have recently experienced trauma may have a varying degree of any of the above issues. These symptoms are something to monitor and relay to your doctor if they begin to significantly impact your function. Depending on the situation, your doctor might prescribe medication or make a referral to a specialist to assist with hormone balancing, psychotherapy, or emotional regulation.

It is a good idea to keep track of your symptoms to identify patterns of things that worsen or improve them. For example, drinking large amounts of coffee might impact your mood in a negative way. Therefore, cut back on the amount of caffeine you intake. It is important to be aware of what your body and mind are telling you in order to keep your health in check.

Lastly, no one knows your body better than you. However, it may be difficult to point out some of these signs and symptoms in your own life. Enlisting the help of others provides you with the support you need through such changes. Being in touch with the signs of your body allows you to gain positive self-awareness to seek the help you need.


Sources:

  • Choi, K.R. (2016). Complex Psychological Trauma and Self-Dysregulation: A Theory Synthesis for Nursing. Research and Theory for Nursing Practice, 30(1), 10-25.
  • Felder, J.N., Laraia, B., Coleman-Phox, K., Bush, N., Suresh, M., Thomas, M., … Prather, A.A. (2018). Poor Sleep Quality, Psychological Distress, and the Buffering Effect of Mindfulness Training During Pregnancy. Behavioral Sleep Medicine, 16(6), 611-624. doi: 10.1080/15402002.2016.1266488.
  • Figueroa, R.A., Cortes, P.F., Accatino, L., & Sorensen, R. (2016). Management of psychological trauma in primary care. Rev Med Chil, 144(5), 643-655. doi: 10.4067/S0034-98872016000500013.
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Brittany Ferri, MS, OTR/L, CCTP, CLT
Brittany Ferri is a registered and licensed occupational therapist. Her clinical experiences include psychosocial therapy, outpatient rehab, and complementary and alternative therapies (CAMs). She is the owner and founder of Simplicity of Health, LLC and currently serves as a virtual therapist for a platform which provides family-based therapy for children. Brittany also provides health and wellness consulting and education for community agencies, consulting for health businesses and products, and individual client treatments using holistic and traditional methods. She also writes health copy for several consumer-facing health publications. Other roles Brittany has assumed include adjunct professor, lead therapist, project coordinator, and developer of policy and procedure. In May 2019, Brittany published Effective Occupational Therapy Documentation with the help of Nova Science and her second book is already in the works. She is passionate about education, health promotion, and disease prevention for all her clients and community partners. Check out her website at https://www.simplicityofhealth.com

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