Stressful events, such as abuse, terrorism, police brutality, domestic violence, witnessing violence, accidents and natural disasters, can have a profound impact on survivors and their families. Even when the traumatic experience is not overt or sudden, being victimized by exploitation, injustice or oppression can also have a profound impact on thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
Some common symptoms of distress caused by stress or trauma include:
- Nightmares or intrusive thoughts about what happened
- Going out of the way to avoid anything that brings what happened to mind
- Jumpiness or exaggerated startle response
- Feeling numb or detached from loved ones, activities or surroundings
- Inability to stop blaming oneself for what happened
Stress, Trauma and Coping
Trauma can result from a one-time event (acute) or from ongoing circumstances (chronic), such as an abusive relationship. The type and severity of symptoms helps clinicians understand how patients are processing the traumatic event. Mental illnesses that can result from stress and trauma in adults, according to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth Edition, include:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): Symptoms persist for longer than one month
- Acute stress disorder: Symptoms occur between three days and one month after trauma
- Adjustment disorder: Symptoms begin with three months of trauma, are disproportionate to what actually occurred and cause significant impairment of function
In addition, the response to trauma may give rise to another co-occurring disorder, such as panic disorder or dissociative disorder. In any case, professional evaluation by a trauma specialist can help sort out the underlying causes of troubling behavioral symptoms.