More Than Anxiety? 6 Signs of Anxiety, Trauma, and PTSD
For many who experience anxiety, an important factor that is often overlooked is trauma.
Perhaps you’ve been anxious and you’re wondering if it might be something deeper. While trauma and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) are commonly associated with single-incident experiences, such as war, sexual assault, or a life-threatening accident, trauma can also be caused by other lesser-known life experiences, such as childhood neglect or abuse, bullying, or abusive relationships.
Trauma is any experience where an individual endures physical or emotional pain along with feelings of fear or helplessness. Most people have experienced some form of trauma. In fact, an estimated 70% of U.S. adults have experienced a traumatic event at least once in their lives, and an estimated 5% — over 13 million people — have PTSD at any given time.
These six signs of anxiety are also signs and symptoms found in trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD):
Being “On Edge”
Anxiety has a natural tendency to cause the feeling of being “on edge” — that uncomfortable restlessness, tense muscles, and fidgeting.
After experiencing trauma, it makes sense to prepare for another bad thing to happen. The problem with this is that you can spend so much time waiting for the next bad thing to happen that you end up being tense and “hypervigilant” all the time. Another common trauma response is jumping when there is a loud noise (also called a “startle response”). This happens because your body is always prepared and “on guard” for another bad thing to happen.
Having Trouble Sleeping
With anxiety, the mind is constantly racing and the body tends to be in a heightened state of arousal. This can lead to difficulty falling asleep and waking up throughout the night.
When something traumatic happens, it takes a while to figure out what happened and what it means. After trauma, the brain is trying to process what happened in order to “digest” it, just like your stomach has to work to digest after big meal. This can lead to nightmares and other sleep difficulties.
When your mind is going a million miles an hour, it can be a challenging to focus on anything, which is often the case with anxiety.
For an individual with a history of trauma, it’s common for the mind to either focus on the traumatic event, or avoid thinking about the traumatic event. This over-focus or avoidance can make it hard to concentrate on work or school, or can even make it difficult to be “in the moment” when hanging out with friends and family.
Feeling Angry and Irritable
People with anxiety are usually overwhelmed and exhausted. This can understandably lead to anger and irritation. It’s not uncommon for people with anxiety to hear from loved ones: “What’s going on?” or, “You haven’t been yourself lately.”
These statements are also common to hear from loved ones of people dealing with symptoms of trauma and PTSD. Many people who have experienced a traumatic event feel angry about the trauma or how things transpired after the trauma. Some people might even feel angry all the time, at everything and at everyone. When something so terrible has happened, it’s hard to not feel angry. Just remember that anger and irritability are very normal responses to trauma.
Feeling Guilty, Ashamed, or Bad About Yourself
With anxiety, it’s easy to become anxious to the point where you avoid day-to-day responsibilities, or shut down and avoid people and things you used to enjoy. Avoidance and isolation are common signs of anxiety and can lead to feeling guilty, ashamed, and feeling bad about yourself.
With trauma, it’s not uncommon for people to feel ashamed about what happened or to feel like “something is wrong with them.” They can also feel guilty about what happened or about how they responded, or blame themselves for things that were outside of their control. Shame and guilt make it difficult to talk about what happened, but believe it or not, these feelings get better the more you talk about.
Having Physical Health Problems
Anxiety trauma, and PTSD are all very stressful experiences. Stress has an effect on your body and can lead to physical symptoms including stomachaches, headaches, nausea, dizziness and lightheadedness.
With trauma, research has shown that unprocessed traumatic experiences and painful memories and emotions are “stored” in the body until it can be processed and released. This can lead to ongoing pains, aches, and uncomfortable sensations within the body.
If you’re experiencing any of the above signs and symptoms, read more about working with an EMDR therapist in St. Paul, MN, to see if it’s right for you. Feel free to schedule a free 20-minute phone consultation with me so we can connect and see if we would be a good fit.