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How Living Through Trauma Can Cause Anxiety

Life is an amazing thing. But it is not without its struggles. At some point in your life, you may be faced with a trauma – from losing a loved one unexpectedly, to personal injury, to something that others can only imagine. While it would be great to easily move on, the effects of trauma can be long lasting.

One of the most amazing things about life is that every event is only a moment in time, with good things coming before and after. But frequently, trauma leaves a mark that is difficult to wash away, and often the mark it leaves is some form of anxiety.

How Severe is Your Anxiety?

If you lived through trauma, then you may be struggling with severe anxiety, and that can be tough to control on your own, even with time. To find out how severe your anxiety is, how it compares to others, and what you can do to stop it, take our free 7 minute anxiety test.

Start the test here.

Trauma and Anxiety

Any time you go through any serious challenge, it has the potential to change your brain chemistry, your coping ability, how you see and respond to challenges, and so much more.

There is no such thing as a “lesser trauma.” If the event was difficult for you, then it counts as a traumatic event. Examples include:

  • Victim of Robbery/Burglary
  • Victim of Assault/Sexual Assault
  • Witnessing a Violent, Sexual, or Frightening Event
  • Being in a Car Accident
  • Breaking a Bone/Experience a Health Problem
  • Fighting as a Soldier
  • Being Bullied, Yelled At, and More.

These are only some examples. Some people that struggle with strong emotions and imagination can even go through a trauma simply by hearing about something terrible that happened to someone they love. Many people that watched the news during 9/11, for example, were traumatized by the experience despite being hundreds of miles away from New York City.

Whatever the trauma may be, if you experienced an event that was traumatic for you, it’s not uncommon for anxiety to be the result. But the severe stress of trauma can lead to any number of different anxiety disorders, simply because the stress can affect you in many different ways.

Trauma and PTSD

Living through a trauma can cause nearly every type of anxiety. But one type of anxiety is specifically linked to trauma, and it is known as “post-traumatic stress disorder,” or “PTSD.”

Post traumatic stress disorder is a common, and unfortunately under-diagnosed issue. It is best known for affecting veterans, especially those that fought on the front lines, but it can occur after nearly any type of trauma:

  • Those that survived rape/sexual assault.
  • Those that survived spousal abuse.
  • Those that survived some type of car, plane, or boating accident.
  • Those that survived a robbery.
  • Those that witnessed any of the above.

It should be noted, however, that PTSD – like all anxiety after trauma – can be caused by other traumatic experiences as well. There is some evidence that it’s possible to develop PTSD after simply hearing about a traumatic story, though this is less common.

PTSD has many common symptoms, including those of other mood disorders – such as general anxiety, panic attacks, and depression. But it is best known for its relationship to the trauma. Those with PTSD often experience flashbacks of the event, dreams of the event, and in some cases even hallucinations of the event. They may also experience a jumpiness as if the event is about to occur. Usually the reaction to these events is physical and emotional.

It’s not uncommon for nearly everyone that went through trauma to experience some degree of this after the event. This is known as an “acute stress reaction” in psychology, and it can sometimes go away without help. But when it doesn’t, that may mean that you struggle with PTSD.

Why Does Trauma Cause Such Severe PTSD Symptoms?

What trauma seems to do to those with PTSD is reset their stress baseline. Imagine that everyone is born with an amount of stress they can easily handle, and the higher their stress level goes, the more difficult it is to control – like filling a cup.

Some people can handle stress well, so more water can be poured into that cup without overflowing. Others are not quite as great at coping, so it’s like their cup starts with a small bit of water already and has less room to fill.

After a person experiences a trauma, they start at a higher baseline of stress and anxiety – as though their cup is already near filled, and never gets any lower. It takes only a small amount of stress (a noise from a car, or a man walking behind you) to already make the cup overflow, and the person’s experiences a high degree of stress the rest of the time.

Some people even get used to that high degree of persistent stress, and may even learn to manage it, but a tiny amount of stress and suddenly their cup has overflowed, they are reliving the event, and their stress is extensive.

It is because of how severe the stress is that those with PTSD are also at high risk for developing depression, addiction, and other mental health issues.

Other Anxiety Conditions and Trauma

Not everyone that goes through trauma develops PTSD. It is also possible to develop other types of anxiety conditions. For example:

  • Trauma and Generalized Anxiety Disorder – Some people that experience a trauma will develop a type of general anxiety. The stress of thinking about and experiencing a trauma can make people anxious, and while they may not relive the event frequently or be as jumpy as those with PTSD, they may still simply find that they have a harder time managing their anxiety symptoms.
  • Trauma and Panic Attacks – Those that experience a trauma may find that something about their trauma causes such severe stress that they have a panic attack, and once you have one panic attack you may be at risk for panic disorder (because fear of panic attacks can trigger more panic attacks). Panic attacks may also occur in someone with PTSD. Panic attacks are moments of intense, severe anxiety that is very physical, with rapid heart rate, sweating, trouble breathing, and more. They may also come with a feeling of doom.
  • Trauma and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – Trauma is also known to cause obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD. After a trauma, the person may have persistent negative fears. It may be reliving the event, but it may also simply be other dangers that they worry about because of what they experience. These obsessions cause people to perform behaviors that they hope will eliminate it. Examples might be making sure everything is in order and accounted for, or checking a door lock over and over again. If these behaviors are persistent, then the person may have a “compulsion.” Those with PTSD can also have OCD symptoms.

All of these anxiety disorders may occur with or without PTSD as a result of living through a trauma. Also, those that already had these conditions (even in a lighter/lesser form) may find that they get worse after they’ve lived through a traumatic event.

Trauma Based Anxiety is Curable

Living through trauma is already exceedingly difficult. No one wants to live through anxiety afterwards. But there is a problem – many people that go through trauma related to anxiety do not seek treatment, because they believe they can, should, or will get over the anxiety on their own.

All forms of anxiety, including trauma related anxiety, is treatable. But in order to treat it, the person has to be willing to seek help, and not try to “be a hero” through their recovery. If your anxiety is severe because of trauma, don’t be afraid to seek out a therapist to talk to and see what treatment options are available.

You should also take our free 7 minute anxiety test. This test will look at the severity of your anxiety symptoms, and provide you with treatment recommendations. It can also help you learn what “type” of anxiety you may have from trauma.

Start the anxiety test here

Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 11, 2018.

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