Scientists Say: Trauma

Trauma can refer to a situation that causes physical or emotional harm, or the effects of that experience

Spending time with loved ones can help boost mental health for people who have experienced trauma.

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Trauma (noun, “TRAW-muh”)

The word “trauma” can have a few meanings. First, it can refer to a situation that causes physical or emotional harm. Second, it can refer to the harm resulting from that situation. Trauma may be a physical injury. But often the word is used to describe the psychological impacts of living through a painful experience.

Anyone can experience trauma. And many types of situations can be traumatic. Some traumas are one-time events. These include natural disasters, car crashes or deaths of loved ones. Trauma can also arise from prolonged harm. This can include physical or emotional abuse. Experiencing poverty or racism can also cause trauma.

No one responds to trauma the exact same way. But there are some common effects. Many people, for instance, feel sad or anxious after a traumatic experience. They may have trouble focusing or sleeping. Sometimes, these impacts are immediate. Other times, they are delayed. Trauma responses can be brief or long-lasting.

Therapy can help survivors of trauma build coping skills. Healthy lifestyle choices can also support recovery. For instance, trying to maintain a normal schedule for eating, sleeping and exercising may help. So can spending time with loved ones.

In a sentence

Cells called astrocytes may help encode memories of trauma in the brain.

If you or someone you know is suffering the effects of a traumatic experience, please seek help. In the United States, anyone impacted by a disaster or tragedy can call the Disaster Distress Hotline, 1-800-985-5990, to connect with a trained crisis counselor. You can also message the Crisis Text Line, 741-741, for free and confidential support 24/7. Anyone suffering from suicidal thoughts can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Maria Temming is the assistant editor at Science News Explores. She has bachelor's degrees in physics and English, and a master's in science writing.

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