How Are Trauma and Chronic Stress Similar?

When you think of trauma, a few things may come to mind. You may think of specific events that can cause trauma, such as an assault or the death of a loved one. You may also think of the symptoms associated with trauma, such as anxiety, depression, or physical symptoms. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may come to mind, as many victims of trauma experience this disorder.

Notably, when we think about trauma, we also think about stress. Trauma and chronic stress are often closely related — more so than many people realize. Let’s look at how trauma and chronic stress are similar.

Trauma and Chronic Stress Have Similar Symptoms

When someone experiences trauma or a series of traumatic events, they may experience symptoms in the weeks, months, and years afterward. Common symptoms of trauma include anxiety, shame, hopelessness, guilt, and possibly physical symptoms like pain and GI problems.

People react to trauma in unique ways, so these symptoms are not an all-inclusive list. However, they outline symptoms that many people do indeed experience following a traumatic event.

Many of the symptoms of trauma are similar to those of chronic stress. Stress can manifest in many of the same ways, including mental and physical symptoms. And, like trauma, people experiencing chronic stress may also feel a sense of numbness or denial about what’s happening.

Trauma and Chronic Stress May Cause Certain Behaviors

Just as trauma and chronic stress may cause similar symptoms, they may cause similar behaviors, as well. After experiencing a trauma, one might become withdrawn from the world. They may become more irritable, jumpy, or paranoid. Many trauma survivors also experience concurring mental illness, such as anxiety or depression.

People experiencing chronic stress may behave similarly to those who have experienced trauma. Their stress may cause them to withdraw from those around them or become depressed. Someone experiencing chronic stress may also become irritable or develop anxiety.

Trauma survivors and people with chronic stress also have a higher tendency to develop unhealthy coping mechanisms. They may turn to drugs, alcohol, self-harm, and other risky behaviors in an attempt to numb the negative feelings related to their trauma and stress.

Understanding the Difference Between Trauma and Chronic Stress

While trauma and chronic stress are similar, it’s important to understand the difference between the two as well. Trauma is an emotional response to a highly stressful and damaging event (or events).

Trauma survivors often have a hard time moving past their event(s). Symptoms of trauma may make a survivor’s life much more difficult afterward. Those who experience trauma are also at risk of developing PTSD.

Chronic stress may also result from specific events, but it’s not necessarily traumatizing. Trauma always causes stress; stress on its own, however, does not always lead to trauma, and this distinction is important. The two often go hand-in-hand, but chronic stress can and often exists without being traumatic.

The Damaging Effects of Trauma and Chronic Stress

While we must note the difference between trauma and chronic stress, there is one undeniable similarity: both can lead to health problems if they go untreated. Because trauma and chronic stress can both cause severe mental illness, it’s dangerous to allow them to go untreated. Untreated mental illness can lead to more serious consequences, including suicidal thoughts.

Fortunately, both trauma and chronic stress can be treated and managed. With the help of therapy, the support of loved ones, and possibly medication, you can find effective ways to cope with the symptoms of trauma and chronic stress.

Many survivors believe that there is no way to move forward after a traumatic or stressful event, but this isn’t true. Both trauma and chronic stress can improve with the right kind of therapy. Contact us for a consultation to learn more about how we can help.

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