How Long Can Trauma Last? How To Overcome Trauma?

Different people deal with trauma differently and heal from it at different paces. Before knowing how long it lasts, let’s first understand what trauma means. Trauma can stem from a single event or a series of events of intense stress including (but not limited to) natural disasters, sexual, physical, or mental assault, death of a child, and accidents. Depending on the intensity, people experience a loss of sense of reality, feel insecure, stressed, or anxious, and loss of appetite. 

How long does trauma last? 

Childhood traumas are often life-lasting because they are caused when your brain is still developing. With time, self-work, and therapy you will learn how to minimize its effect in day-to-day life. If this trauma is left unaddressed, you will develop a sense of fear and helplessness, which then affects your school, work, and relationships. 

The longevity of trauma that happens later in life depends on how you deal with it but it will typically last from a few months to a year. Therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) have been shown to be effective in treating trauma.

illustration by Izzy Paez on what you think healing looks like (a straight growth) versus what it actually looks like (ups and downs along the way during which you grow, sometimes backtrack but eventually overcome your issues)

What does trauma look like? 

Trauma symptoms present themselves in mental and physical ways. For children, it is more physical in nature as they don’t understand what they feel or can’t express it properly. For teens and adults, it manifests as: 

Mental symptoms 

  • Persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety, or depression
  • Emotional numbness or detachment from others
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities
  • Feeling hopeless, helpless, or a lack of a future perspective
  • Avoidance of places, people, or activities that are reminders of the trauma
  • Flashbacks or intrusive thoughts about the traumatic event
  • Irritability, anger outbursts, or aggressive behaviour
  • Problems with concentration and memory
  • Feelings of guilt, shame, or self-blame related to the trauma
  • Substance abuse or other harmful coping mechanisms
  • Sudden mood swings or emotional instability
  • Difficulty in maintaining close relationships

Physical symptoms 

  • Difficulty sleeping, including insomnia or nightmares
  • Hypervigilance or an exaggerated startle response
  • Reduced or loss of appetite 
  • Headaches or gastrointestinal issues, without a medical cause
  • Nightmares 
  • Racing heart or hyperventilation 
  • Feeling tired all the time 

You don’t have to experience all of these or even intensely. Everyone responds to trauma differently and you could have coping mechanisms in place already that reduce its impact. Talk to a mental health provider to give definitive meaning to what you’re feeling before brushing it off. 

A group of peoples smiling and sitting in the grass at a music festival

How to overcome trauma? 

Healing from trauma is a multi-faceted approach. Just going to therapy and talking about your feelings and experiences will not magically help you. You need to actively make choices that you know will help you and that involves staying away from people or things that trigger your trauma. Here are ways you can overcome trauma:

1. Surround yourself with loved ones

Loved ones can offer emotional support, a listening ear, or simply the presence you need to not feel alone. Remember, it’s okay to lean on others during tough times; human connection can be incredibly healing.

2. Learn patience 

Rome wasn’t built in a day. If you feel forever stuck in a state of mind, rather than questioning why, question how you can make small changes that will have a big impact on your mental health. Follow through with those changes because progress is not linear. Some days you will feel that you’ve conquered all fears only to feel lost and unwanted the next week. 

3. Don’t be too hard on yourself 

It’s easy to fall into the trap of self-criticism, especially when progress seems slow. If you are starting to be too hard on yourself, step outside of your body, and think – would you treat your friend as harshly if they were going through the same? You know the answer, so why do that to yourself? 

4. Move around and get those steps in 

Exercise releases endorphins, which are feel-good hormones. Go out for a walk in your neighbourhood or backyard,  find a friend to accompany you to the gym, or pick up a fun activity like rock climbing, swimming, or gardening. 

5. Join a trauma support group 

Support groups offer a safe space to share your story, listen to others, and learn coping strategies that others have found helpful. It will calm you knowing that you’re not alone in your feelings and experiences and that if others have healed, so will you. 

6. Meditate a few minutes every day 

Meditation helps calm your mind, reduce stress, and improve your focus and clarity. Find a few minutes every morning and night. You will find many self-guided meditation videos on YouTube. 

7. Get out of your comfort zone 

This doesn’t mean you have to make grand gestures; small steps like exploring a new hobby, learning a new skill, or simply changing your routine can shift your perspective and encourage personal growth.

8. Learn self-regulation mechanisms

Techniques such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or grounding exercises can help you manage intense emotions and relax your heart rate.  

9. Take care of your health 

Eat healthy, sleep for eight hours every night, and reduce alcohol intake to only parties and social gatherings. If you’re deficient in certain minerals or vitamins, talk to your doctor about the supplements that you can take. 

10. Find a trauma therapist 

Work with a trauma therapist who has experience in working with similar trauma clients. They can provide a safe and confidential space for you to explore your experiences and feelings. They are also proficient in trauma therapies such as EMDR, Relational Psychotherapy,  Brain & Neurobiology, Attachment, and Compassionate Inquiry, which have helped people across the globe. 

Jennifer Pinto is a Registered Social Worker and Psychotherapist with a Master’s degree from University of Toronto. She specializes in trauma therapy, infant loss/grief, and bereavement and offers virtual services across Ontario. Please get in touch today for a free 15-minute consultation (first-time clients only).

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