How do I know if I have “trauma”?
An event, circumstance, or relationship is considered traumatic when there is a strong “emotional charge” to the memory accompanied by symptoms such as intrusive thoughts or memories of the event, avoidance of event reminders, difficulty sleeping, irritability, and difficulty concentrating. The label “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” (PTSD) is used to describe the set of symptoms that are present for a person who has experienced trauma.
We can feel the impacts of “Big T” trauma (such as a natural disaster, an accident, a sudden or unexpected death, or an assault) or what is called “Little t” trauma (emotionally or verbally abusive relationships, bullying, unprocessed grief, persistent invalidation, or social alienation). Both can result in symptoms of trauma or PTSD and can contribute to additional issues, including depression, anxiety, and relationship problems.
PTSD can sometimes look like anxiety.
Trauma symptoms and anxiety symptoms often look extremely similar- both diagnoses can involve racing heart, excessive fear activation, avoidance behaviors, sleep issues, hypervigilance, excessive worry, physical pains (such as headaches and stomachaches), restlessness, fatigue, and trouble focusing. Given the overlap of symptoms, it is important to consider trauma history in any evaluation for anxiety symptoms.
Trauma treatment can work alongside anxiety treatment.
If you have symptoms of anxiety as well as a trauma history, treatment can be custom-tailored to provide relief for both anxiety and trauma symptoms. The gold-standard treatment method for trauma symptoms is Eye Sensitization Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, which can be effectively used alongside Exposure Therapy and CBT.
Additionally, skills from Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) can be immensely useful to help regulate trauma-related emotional responses. DBT skills include fast-acting relaxation techniques, grounding exercises, and mindfulness skills.