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  • Alainnah Knight

How Can Unprocessed Trauma Impact Me Day To Day?

Did you know that unprocessed trauma can impact our day-to-day lives in ways that we may not be aware of? For trauma survivors it is easy to get into a state of "survival mode," where our nervous system is in a chronic state of "fight or flight." Sometimes we may not even be aware that we endured a "trauma," but our body still may have those unprocessed emotions that have not been addressed. So let's explore a few different ways that unprocessed trauma can show up day-to-day.


How Does Unprocessed Trauma Show Up?

Intense Emotions

Unprocessed trauma in the body can lead to intense emotional reactions such as fear, anxiety, anger, sadness, or guilt. These emotions may surface unexpectedly or be triggered by certain events, people, or situations. Often times changes in behavior, such as social withdrawal, substance abuse, or risk-taking, may be coping mechanisms for unprocessed trauma.


Easily Distractible

Unprocessed trauma can lead to a state of hyperarousal, where we feel constantly on edge, unable to sit still, or are easily startled. This can lead to coping with distractibility and managing many "tasks" at one time in order to direct attention in other places other than the trigger. This heightened state of arousal can interfere with relaxation, sleep, and concentration.


Intrusive Memories or Thoughts

Intrusive memories, thoughts, or flashbacks can be a sign of unprocessed trauma. Trauma can imprint vivid memories of distressing events, which may resurface involuntarily when experiencing a trigger.


Phobias or Avoidance

People who have unprocessed trauma may develop avoidance behaviors, consciously or unconsciously steering clear of reminders of the traumatic event, or triggers. This could be avoiding certain places, people, activities, or even thoughts and feelings associated with the trauma.


Hopelessness

Unprocessed trauma can perpetuate negative thought patterns and feelings of hopelessness, leading us to believe that our suffering is endless and insurmountable. This sense of hopelessness can overshadow our outlook on the future, making it difficult to envision any sort of positive change or recovery.


Perfectionism

Unprocessed trauma may drive us to seek control in our lives as a coping mechanism, leading to perfectionistic tendencies. We may feel compelled to excel in every aspect of our lives as a way to mitigate the fear and uncertainty stemming from our past experiences.


Lastly,

It is so important to recognize that the impacts of trauma vary from person to person and can evolve over time! Seeking support from mental health professionals, engaging in self-care practices, and building a strong support network are crucial steps in coping with trauma and its day-to-day effects!



Resources

Iyadurai, L., Blackwell, S., Meiser-Stedman, R. et al. Preventing intrusive memories after trauma via a brief intervention involving Tetris computer game play in the emergency department: a proof-of-concept randomized controlled trial. Mol Psychiatry 23, 674–682 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/mp.2017.23


Kuzminskaite, E., Vinkers, C. H., Smit, A. C., van Ballegooijen, W., Elzinga, B. M., Riese, H., … Penninx, B. W. J. H. (2024). Day-to-day affect fluctuations in adults with childhood trauma history: a two-week ecological momentary assessment study. Psychological Medicine, 54(6), 1160–1171. doi:10.1017/S0033291723002969


Liang, L., Bonanno, G. A., Hougen, C., Hobfoll, S. E., & Hou, W. K. (2023). Everyday life experiences for evaluating post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. European journal of psychotraumatology, 14(2), 2238584. https://doi.org/10.1080/20008066.2023.2238584


Ponnamperuma, T., & Nicolson, N. A. (2018). The Relative Impact of Traumatic Experiences and Daily Stressors on Mental Health Outcomes in Sri Lankan Adolescents. Journal of traumatic stress, 31(4), 487–498. https://doi.org/10.1002/jts.22311

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