If you or a friend need urgent assistance, call 911 immediately, or take your friend directly to the emergency room. If you feel it’s safe, stay with your friend, or find someone to stay with them until help arrives.
Trauma is far more common than you might think, with the vast majority (70%) of people experiencing at least one traumatic event during their lifetimes. The effects of trauma, especially without the right support, can feel earth-shattering. Trauma has the potential to shift your worldview, sense of self, and relationships. It can also lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a clinical mental health diagnosis.
Trauma and PTSD can be overcome. This Roadmap provides an understanding of what trauma and PTSD are, their potential impact, how to cope, and where to find credible resources to further your healing journey.
Scroll on for more, and if this content ever becomes too difficult to read, skip to the Coping & Treatment section for coping skills, or take a break and engage in a soothing activity.
Created in partnership with Kenneth Cole Productions and Men’s Wearhouse
While not all trauma leads to PTSD, all PTSD stems from trauma.
Trauma is the emotional or psychological response to a deeply distressing experience or situation. It typically creates a sense of fear that does not have to but can have lasting effects on well-being.
Post-traumatic stress disorder, aka PTSD, is a clinical mental health diagnosis resulting from traumatic experience(s) that leads to a specific set of symptoms.
Here are some experiences that are commonly considered traumatic and can lead to PTSD:
While there are many types of trauma, below are some of the more common ones. Click each term to learn more.
A single distressing incident → trauma
Surviving a hate crime
Prolonged, repeated experiences → trauma
Financial abuse that unfolds over years
Multiple distressing events that are interpersonal and invasive in nature → trauma
Ongoing child abuse; intimate partner violence
A major event experienced by a group of individuals or within a community → trauma
Historical trauma; the COVID-19 pandemic
Mistreatment from another person or persons → trauma
Abuse; combat; assault; discrimination
Highly distressing experiences that do not originate from human behavior → trauma
Medical diagnoses; natural disasters
Terrifying events experienced by one generation → similar trauma-based reactions in next generation(s)
Historical trauma; slavery; the Holocaust
Learning about the traumatic experiences of others, especially those you are close to → trauma
A loved one recounting an assault they survived
To stop trauma from progressing to PTSD, early care and support after traumatic events is crucial. And knowing the warning signs of PTSD can go a long way in recognizing when support is needed. Here they are:
If you or someone you know is in crisis, having thoughts of suicide, or needs a safe place to talk, you or they can call 988 or text the Crisis Text Line by texting “COALITION” to 741-741.
The impact of trauma can touch all major aspects of life. Here are some common ways trauma & PTSD can affect your well-being.
Trauma & PTSD can lead to difficulties that negatively impact life on a daily basis. Some of these include:
Detachment from or negative sense of self
Jaded, fearful, or mistrustful view of the world or other people
Diminished sense of safety
Difficulty regulating emotions
Decline in performance at work
Decline in school performance
Impaired cognitive functioning (e.g., memory, focus)
Trauma can lead to difficulties that are so severe that a clinical diagnosis and treatment are necessary. Experiences of trauma can raise your susceptibility to:
Prolonged grief disorder
Other mental health conditions
Active duty service members and Veterans are faced with traumatic experiences inherent to the nature of their work. Exposure to trauma over time can impact mental health and well-being. Many service members find difficulty in talking to their friends and families about their experiences and the lasting impact those experiences have on their lives. This can leave Veterans feeling isolated. However, you don’t have to struggle alone. (Learn more in the Coping & Treatment section.)
If you are a Veteran or know a Veteran in need of support, call 988, then press 1 to be connected with a responder qualified to support Veterans.
When it comes to trauma and PTSD, there are many sources of healing. It is important to know where to look, find what works specifically for you, and be ready to take steps toward implementing coping strategies.
Below are five ways to promote healing after a traumatic event — click each skill to learn more. These activities can be done on your own for free or low cost.
As with any tips for boosting mental well-being, the most important factor is that you find ways that work for you. If none of these speak to you, see if you can get creative and come up with some of your own.
Social support is one of the best antidotes to trauma and PTSD. Consider who in your life you can lean on or be vulnerable with.
Video chat with a close friend to talk about how you’re feeling.
If you can’t think of someone, seek out a support group online.
Trauma and PTSD can disconnect you from yourself in many ways. Practice mindfulness techniques in order to find yourself again.
Practice a mindful body scan. Set a timer for three minutes, close your eyes, and just notice how each part of your body feels, scanning from your head to your toes. Try to let go of any judgment.
Traumatic experiences can stay with us for years in the body, and attention to the physical body can be restorative.
Find an activity that feels soothing like yoga, massage, stretching, or a self-hug.
Trauma can negatively impact the way we view ourselves. Developing your strengths can bring you a sense of purpose and resilience.
Journal about the positive things a friend might say about you or moments that you’ve felt proud of yourself.
Practicing self-love can help release self-blame and replenish a positive view of yourself after trauma. MHC’s Roadmap to Self-Love can help you find ways of doing that.
Give yourself some positive self-talk or think of something kind to say to yourself. If that feels hard, try simply starting with, “I am whole.”
These are more formal treatment options. While there are many forms of clinical treatment for trauma and PTSD, these are the more common and evidence-based ones.
Explores the connection among behaviors, feelings, and thoughts to modify patterns that create difficulties in daily life after trauma.
Helps build skills to shift and challenge unhelpful beliefs related to traumatic experience(s).
Shows you how to gradually approach memories, situations, and emotions that are related to past trauma so that avoidance is reduced and a sense of freedom restored.
Modifies the damaging memories and evaluations related to traumatic experiences so that more helpful thought patterns can emerge.
Encourages briefly focusing on difficult memories while bilateral stimulation takes place (e.g., eye movements), which can decrease the vividness and intensity of emotions connected to those memories.
Combines CBT with a focus on emotions (e.g., shame and guilt) and emphasizes the healing relationship between a therapist and client.
While the above coping strategies might sound great in theory, sometimes obstacles get in the way of practicing them. Here are some common roadblocks to using coping skills and how to sidestep them.
Addressing these roadblocks is often the first step toward healing from trauma and PTSD.
It is very common for folks who have experienced trauma to blame themselves… But remember, it’s not your fault. Imagine if this happened to a loved one — would you speak to them the way you speak to yourself?
Therapy can be a great way to process traumatic events, but not everyone has access to that. You may be able to find low-fee services in your area — but you can also find trusted sources online to learn about trauma, coping skills, and your legal rights.
If you don’t feel like you have a trusted loved one to talk to, there are plenty of other options to connect. Try looking into online forums or support groups offered by community orgs or hospitals.
Guilt can be a really complex emotion. It often comes from the idea that we’ve hurt someone. It might help to journal or talk to someone you trust, and you may realize what you’ve been telling yourself only hurts yourself.
After experiencing trauma, it’s normal to fear places or things that remind you of the event(s). That’s the part of your mind trying to protect you — there’s no rush to re-engage, and you don’t have to do it alone. Try reaching out to a professional or a close friend to gradually work your way up to your goals.
Whatever stage of healing you are in today, remember that growth after trauma is a journey, and that journey can take time. If you feel ready, we’ve got more resources for you to explore below.
Check out the Mental Health Coalition’s Resource Library for additional information on boosting mental well-being.
If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, use the resources below:
The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones.
Text COALITION to 741741 from anywhere in the United States, anytime. A live, trained Crisis Counselor receives the text and responds, helping you move from a hot moment to a cool moment.
RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. Call their National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-4673.
Your support matters. To show your support, please log in or create an account