Trauma can be physical or emotional

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Trauma can be physical or emotional

When it comes to personal health and safety, the word “trauma” can mean different things.

Traumatic injury refers to physical injuries that are sudden, severe, and require immediate medical attention. Physical trauma can be a traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, skull fracture, collapsed lung, or other emergency.

Psychological or emotional trauma is a response to an event or experience that is deeply distressing or disturbing. This can occur due to an illness or injury, losing a loved one, being sexually assaulted or tortured, or having experienced a natural disaster, to name just a few. Reactions can include physical symptoms as well, such as headaches, nausea, and sweating.

Responses to trauma can be immediate or delayed, brief or prolonged, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Most people have an intense response immediately following a traumatic event, which can last for weeks, months, or longer. Responses can include feeling anxious, sad, or angry, having trouble concentrating and sleeping, and continually thinking about what happened.

For most people, these are normal responses that diminish with time. When responses continue longer and interfere with everyday life, it is important to seek professional help. Signs that an individual may need help include the following:

  • Worrying a lot or feeling very anxious, sad, or fearful
  • Crying often
  • Having trouble thinking clearly
  • Having frightening thoughts or flashbacks
  • Feeling angry, resentful, or irritable
  • Having nightmares or difficulty sleeping
  • Avoiding places or people that bring back disturbing memories and responses
  • Becoming isolated from family and friends

Children and teens can react differently to trauma than adults. Symptoms in young children (less than six years old) can include:

  • Wetting the bed after having learned to use the toilet
  • Forgetting how to or being unable to talk
  • Acting out the scary event during playtime
  • Being unusually clingy with a parent or other adult

Mental health conditions caused by trauma are treatable, the NIMH states. If you or someone you know needs help, talk with your healthcare provider.