Terrible events like accidents, acts of violence or natural disasters can leave both physical and emotional scars.

Unlike physical reminders, trauma is an internal emotional response which can be more difficult to detect – and treat.

Common sources of trauma include:

  • severe illness or injury
  • death of a loved one
  • sexual assault
  • domestic violence
  • natural disasters
  • witnessing an act of violence

When we go through something traumatic, it is common to feel an immediate sense of shock and denial. Longer-term trauma symptoms can include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships, and even physical signs, like headaches and nausea. While all of these symptoms are considered to be “normal” responses, for some people they are so severe that they interfere with their day-to-day life.

If you or someone you know has been through a traumatic experience, it is important to recognize the symptoms, as a first step toward recovery.

Who is affected by trauma?

Trauma can happen to anyone – at any age and stage of life. Death, accidents, natural disasters (like the 2013 Alberta floods), and violence can be very traumatizing. The difference between mild and severe trauma depends on the intensity, duration and frequency of the traumatic event itself.

Young children are especially vulnerable to trauma. If a child has witnessed a traumatic experience, such as domestic violence, they should be examined by a professional to safeguard their emotional well-being.

How to recognize trauma.

Here are some of the most common psychological and physical symptoms of trauma:

Psychological Symptoms

  • shock and disbelief
  • fear or anxiety
  • grief, disorientation, denial
  • hyper-alertness or hypervigilance
  • irritability, restlessness, outbursts of anger or rage
  • emotional swings -– like crying and then laughing
  • worrying or ruminating – intrusive thoughts of the trauma
  • nightmares
  • flashbacks -– feeling like the trauma is happening now
  • feelings of helplessness, panic, or feeling out of control
  • increased need to control everyday experiences
  • minimizing the experience
  • attempts to avoid anything associated with trauma
  • tendency to isolate oneself
  • feelings of detachment
  • concern over burdening others with problems
  • emotional numbing or restricted range of feelings
  • difficulty trusting and/or feelings of betrayal
  • difficulty concentrating or remembering
  • feelings of self-blame and/or survivor guilt
  • shame
  • diminished interest in everyday activities or depression
  • unpleasant past memories resurfacing
  • suicidal thoughts
  • loss of a sense of order or fairness in the world; expectation of doom and fear of the future
  • anger towards religion or belief system; loss of beliefs
  • desire for revenge

Physical Symptoms

  • aches and pains like headaches, backaches, stomach aches
  • sudden sweating and/or heart palpitations
  • changes in sleep patterns, appetite, interest in sex
  • constipation or diarrhea
  • easily startled by noises or unexpected touch
  • more susceptible to colds and illnesses
  • increased use of alcohol or drugs and/or overeating

What you can do.

People are often surprised by how long it can take to get over a traumatic event. In many cases it takes weeks, months or even years to fully regain equilibrium. Give yourself or your loved ones time to heal – and be patient. Friends and family can try to push someone to “get over it” before they are ready. If this has happened to you, let your friends and family know that such responses are not helpful for you right now.

Helpful Tips:

Talk about it.

Connect with other people who shared in your experience. If that’s not possible, find someone with an empathetic ear. The process of verbalizing your experience and feelings can be therapeutic.

Give yourself permission to feel.

Trauma happens, but it doesn’t define us. Make time each day to honour your feelings. Wrap your arms around your sadness and grief and then gently put them away until the next day.

Write it down.

Journaling can be a great way to organize your thoughts and feelings. Plus, you can go back and read your journal to see how far you’ve come.

Be kind to yourself.

Trauma can be very hard on our mental and physical selves. Be extra good to yourself during this time. Go for a massage. Enjoy a delicious, healthy meal and get plenty of sleep.

Work it out.

Exercises such as jogging, aerobics, cycling or walking are great endorphin boosters. If you prefer a more “Zen” approach, grab a yoga mat, breathe and stretch. Go online to download free guided mediation tools. Namaste.

Laughter really is good medicine.

Seek out opportunities for humour and laughter – go to a movie, read a book or listen to a funny podcast. Even during the most difficult times, a laugh – or even a smile – can go a long way toward making you feel better.

Hug someone you love.

It’s scientifically proven that hugs can help your brain and body calm down from overwhelming states of anxiety, panic and shame. Next time you see someone in pain or feel as if the world is crumbling around you, open yourself up to a hug.

Listen to music.

Plug in your favourite crooner or try something new – Bach. The Weeknd. Rihanna? It doesn’t matter what your musical tastes are. The fact is music is proven to reduce depression, anxiety and chronic pain.

Do something for others.

Donate some old clothes to a charity or volunteer for something that is personally meaningful. The benefits of giving go beyond simply being helpful. You will boost your self-esteem, confidence and feel valued having made a difference in someone’s life.

Seek professional help.

Individual, group or family counselling can be helpful. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) has been used for both immediate and longer-term treatment of trauma.

For more information, check out these links:


The self-help resources on this website are not intended to be a substitute for therapy or professional advice. The information is intended to give people the opportunity to explore topics of interest or that pertain to them or someone they know – in private and in their own time. While all attempts have been made to verify the information, we do not assume any responsibility for errors, omissions or contrary interpretation of the subject matter. If you need to talk to someone, call our Engagement Team at 403.233.2360 or send us an email at intake@cfs-ab.org.