Trauma: What is it, Who’s at Risk, and Stress-Reducing Coping Strategies That Can Help
Updated: 7 days ago
Given the current circumstances, trauma is a buzzword that’s been flying around lately.
What does it mean?
The American Psychological Association defines trauma as the “emotional response one can get in response to a horrific event like an accident, rape, or natural disaster." While it's normal to initially feel intense emotions in response to a life-changing event, sometimes these stressors can result in long-term physical and emotional consequences.
The pandemic has shed new light on the issue of trauma.
According to this article from Science, individual differences along with differences in one's community can impact how people respond to the adversity; there are a plethora of factors including, but not limited to, one's: health, financial status, accessibility to resources, quality of social support, and past experiences that can impact the level of trauma an individual may face.
As a result, the source notes that while some individuals may be at a higher risk of developing trauma than others, one cannot definitively predict an individual’s response to the pandemic. Perhaps one individual faced significant adversity prior to the pandemic and continues to lack a solid social support system, whereas the second individual is faced with significant financial strain and lost their job in the current circumstances; one cannot necessarily argue that person two will indubitably fare better than the first person.
Healthcare Workers are facing trauma.
One article published in Scientific American described the psychological trauma faced by healthcare workers, a consequence of attending to COVID-19 patients, as the next potential crisis for these essential workers. The “prolonged state of uncertainty” faced by these workers in addition to potential moral injury contribute to trauma symptoms among healthcare workers.
Keep in mind, that the article discusses how moral injury, or the "psychological, behavioral, and in some cases spiritual consequence" of having go against one’s morals, is a term that has been traditionally reserved for veterans. In the context of healthcare workers, moral injury is noted to be a consequence of having to actively decide who gets treatment due to a shortage of equipment and other resources. Unlike most of us, these workers do not have the luxury of being able to turn off their sources of news; rather, they are constantly exposed to the realities of the virus which only exacerbates psychological trauma.
Those who are infected with the coronavirus are susceptible to trauma.
Patients with COVID-19 are at a higher risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder. Many patients obtaining treatment for COVID-19 are separated from their families for lengthy periods of time and the intensive treatment plans for these patients can be distressing.
Racial trauma is a unique form of trauma.
Described as a reaction to “dangerous events and real or perceived experiences of racial discrimination”, racial trauma can actually mimic the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. It highlights the need for cultural competency in assisting minority groups to heal from this distinct form of trauma.
In light of current events, it’s imperative to be cognizant of what trauma is, who’s at risk, and to eliminate the stigma in reaching out for trauma-related cases. As seen above, trauma does not discriminate. Although we may typically think of trauma as a consequence of extreme war, poverty, or violence, the causes of trauma can be widespread. Individuals from a variety of backgrounds are susceptible to unique kinds of trauma.
In the meantime, I’ll leave this handy resource from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Aside from highlighting at-risk groups, the CDC has provided a helpful list of coping strategies in the face of significant stressors.
Below are helpful stress-reducing strategies provided by the CDC website:
"Know what to do if you are sick and are concerned about COVID-19. Contact a health professional before you start any self-treatment for COVID-19.
Know where and how to get treatment and other support services and resources, including counseling or therapy (in person or through telehealth services).
Take care of your emotional health. Taking care of your emotional health will help you think clearly and react to the urgent needs to protect yourself and your family.
Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including those on social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
Take care of your body.
Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate.
Avoid excessive alcohol and drug use.
Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.
Connect with your community- or faith-based organizations. While social distancing measures are in place, consider connecting online, through social media, or by phone or mail."
By identifying who's at risk and by raising this discussion, we get one step closer to helping those affected by trauma.