Trauma is a life-altering experience that can impact a person’s physical, emotional, and psychological wellbeing. It can be an event or experience that threatens a person’s life, health, or well-being, leading to mental health disorders such as anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This blog post will explore the connection between trauma, PTSD, and anxiety, as well as the common manifestations of trauma-induced anxiety.
Trauma and anxiety
Traumatic events often lead to anxiety later in life. Physical or emotional abuse, natural disasters, accidents, military combat, and other traumatic events are some examples of experiences that can cause anxiety. Studies show that individuals who have experienced trauma are more susceptible to anxiety disorders like panic disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, and social anxiety disorder. Anxiety can arise directly from the traumatic event or later as a result of the trauma’s impact on an individual’s mental and emotional state.
Trauma-induced anxiety is a form of anxiety that arises from traumatic experiences. It is common for individuals who have undergone traumatic events to develop anxiety as a coping mechanism. The anxiety can manifest itself in different ways, depending on the nature of the traumatic event and an individual’s personality. Here are some common manifestations of trauma-induced anxiety.
1. Panic attacks
Panic attacks are sudden episodes of intense fear or discomfort that last for a few minutes. They are characterised by physical symptoms such as sweating, heart palpitations, trembling, and shortness of breath. Panic attacks can occur spontaneously or be triggered by a traumatic event.
Phobias are intense, irrational fears of certain objects, situations, or activities. They can be related to the traumatic event, such as a fear of enclosed spaces after being trapped in a confined space during a traumatic event.
3. Social anxiety
Social anxiety is a fear of being judged or scrutinised by others in social situations. Individuals who have experienced traumatic events may develop social anxiety to avoid situations that may remind them of the traumatic event or where they feel judged.
4. Obsessive-compulsive disorder
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health disorder characterised by repetitive, intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive behaviours (compulsions) performed in response to those thoughts. Individuals who have experienced traumatic events may develop OCD as a way of coping with the anxiety caused by the trauma.
PTSD and anxiety
PTSD is a condition that arises from exposure to a traumatic event. For a formal clinical diagnosis, a person must meet several criteria, including duration of symptoms lasting more than a month and the significance of symptoms on functioning. Other important criteria are as follows:
- The presence of an initial stressor. Stressors include exposure to death or threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence (either through direct exposure, witnessing, exposure of family or close friends, or through indirect exposure during professional duty).
- The presence of symptoms of intrusion. This means a person re-experiences persistently a traumatic event through unwanted upsetting memories, nightmares, flashbacks, emotional distress after exposure to a traumatic reminders, or physical reactivity after exposure to traumatic reminders (‘triggering’).
- The presence of avoidant behaviour regarding trauma-related stimuli, whether thoughts or feelings or external reminders.
- The presence of negative alterations in cognition and mood.
According to research, individuals with PTSD are four times more likely to develop anxiety disorders than those without PTSD. Even if a person’s PTSD is considered subclinical, symptoms may be persistent and very real. Anxiety can result directly from a traumatic event or develop later as a result of the trauma’s impact on an individual’s mental and emotional state.
Managing trauma-induced anxiety
Research has shown the efficacy of EMDR therapy for treatment of both PTSD and subclinical post-traumatic stress symptoms. Read more about EMDR and PTSD here, or contact EMDR practitioner Stephen Jacobs for more information.