Trauma—What is Trauma? How to cope with difficult emotions.


Trauma defined:

Trauma is “an event or series of events that are experienced as threatening and that have immediate and/or lasting adverse effects on an individual’s functioning”.  Trauma occurs when these negative events are so overwhelming, we cannot properly understand, process and move on from them.  When these events are unattended to, trauma can negatively impact an individual’s functioning, as well as their mental, physical, social or emotional wellbeing.


How our bodies respond to danger:

When feeling stressed or threatened, our bodies respond to danger through an automatic response. This is often seen as:

Fight: fighting, struggling or protesting

Flight: hiding or moving away

Freeze: feeling paralyzed or unable to move

Fawn: people-pleasing and ignoring own needs


Impacts of trauma:

Trauma effects everyone differently. When thoughts or memories of the traumatic event don’t go away or get worse, this can disrupt a person’s life in many different ways such as, but not limited to:

Emotional dysregulation: difficulty regulating emotions such as anger, fear and shame. Traumatic stress tends to evoke emotional extremes; feeling too much (overwhelmed) or feeling too little (numb).

Persistent fear response: fearful of ordinary events, people or things that loosely relate to the trauma they have experienced.

Hyperarousal: can be characterized by sleep disturbances, muscle tension, or higher sensitivity to things such as loud noises and eye contact.

Internalizing Stress: More likely to develop anxiety or depression, increased risk for self-harm and substance abuse.

Misreading situations or events: reacting with aggression or defensiveness that if out of line with the actual situation, or misinterpreting situations as more dangerous due to triggers of past trauma.

Guilt or shame: Trying to make sense of, and gain control of the traumatic event by assuming responsibility.



Trauma can cause strong feelings and difficult experiences. In order to move beyond these difficult emotions and cope with trauma effectively, it needs to be processed and understood on an emotional level. Developing some coping strategies to use when feeling stressed or triggered can be very helpful. Some of these strategies can include:

Self-compassion: have compassion for yourself and your experiences, know your responses are understandable given your experiences

Create a safe space: this can be a real place, or a place in your mind where you feel safe. It’s important that this space is easily accessible.

Grounding exercises: this can be anything that helps you relax and become present (yoga, deep breathing, meditation, mindfulness exercises)

Developing secure relationships: having secure and trusting relationships is important to help you feel safe, and can be a source of comfort.

Get to know your triggers: certain experiences, situations or people can cause flashbacks, panic attacks or dissociation. By getting to know and understand these, we can detect it earlier on.


Support and resources:

Remember, your trauma healing journey will be unique, and there are many ways to approach it.  At Anderson Therapy Services, we support adults and children experiencing a wide range of mental health concerns. Our Registered Psychotherapists are trained in a variety of techniques, including Art Therapy, to help clients express and process their emotions and anxiety with, or without words.

You can learn more about Art Therapy at Anderson Therapy Services here:

If you feel that art therapy might be right for you or your child, please contact us at to set up a free 15-minute consultation.  We will be happy to help you find the right resources for your healing journey.