Understanding trauma: What is trauma and how can it affect me?

The past few years have been pretty tough. We’ve faced everything from the 2019-2020 Eastern Victorian bushfires to the pandemic, the housing crisis to cost of living pressures. So, it’s no surprise that a lot of us have been using the word ‘trauma’ to describe what we’ve been through. But what does the term trauma mean?  

What does the term trauma mean?

When we talk about trauma in the mental health field, we’re usually talking about one of two things. Trauma can refer to an event that puts someone’s life or safety at risk. This is more accurately called a traumatic event. Or, it can refer to the psychological injury someone experiences after going through such an event. 

Examples of traumatic events include sexual abuse, difficult birth experiences, motor vehicle accidents, violence, natural disasters, and acts of war. Some traumatic events are more likely to cause a psychological injury. These events are repeated or long-lasting, or involve one person deliberately harming another. Unfortunately, most of us will experience at least one traumatic event in our lives. 

What are the common symptoms of trauma?

It is normal for people to feel shaken up for a few days or weeks after a traumatic event. Often, people describe the following;

  • Feeling upset, wound up, and fearful, 
  • Being preoccupied with thoughts about the event
  • Having thoughts that life is unpredictable and unsafe
  • Having trouble sleeping and eating

How do you recover from trauma?

Most people recover from a traumatic event by using their usual coping strategies and reaching out to people in their support networks. These help them to make sense of the event and move forward. For some people, the symptoms can stick around and cause problems in different areas of their lives. These are all signs that a person may need psychological treatment to help their recovery.

These might include; 

  • Frequent memories or dreams about the traumatic event
  • Feeling physically wound up and emotionally upset after being reminded of the event
  • Avoiding reminders of the event
  • Being constantly on the look out for danger
  • Feeling irritable and angry
  • Having difficulty concentrating and getting tasks done

Those people struggling to recover may go on to develop a mental health condition. Many people believe that the most common is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but this is not true. A large-scale study of Australians found that the most common mental health conditions were depression, generalised anxiety disorder, substance abuse, PTSD and agoraphobia. Luckily, there are psychological therapies that have been scientifically shown to help people recover from the impact of a traumatic event. 

Further Resources

Phoenix Australia, the Australian National Centre of Excellence in Posttraumatic Mental Health, has published the Australian Guidelines for the Prevention and Treatment of Acute Stress Disorder, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, and Complex PTSD (2021)

In addition, they have published a series of factsheets and videos which illustrate the way trauma can affect us. Check out the video Understanding Trauma and factsheets outlining the strategies which help support recovery, Managing Emotions Tips, Self Care, Connecting with Others, and Reclaiming Life Tips

Our team at Headstrong Psychology helps people who have experienced trauma. We offer a number of science-backed treatments which help you to make sense of your experience, improve your well-being, and move forward in life. Call us on 0431 998 351 to discuss a booking with one of our clinical psychologists. 

Trauma & PTSD




Understanding trauma: What is trauma and how can it affect me?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *