Courage for life Blog

Distress that Leads to Trauma

April 10, 2024

Life can be stressful at times, but not all stress is “bad.” No matter your age, you may struggle with difficult life experiences, which create obstacles to meaningful relationships with God and others. Some of the stress you experience could be self-inflicted because of your own scheduling, lifestyle, choices, or desires. However, stress is often short in duration and with good coping skills you can “get through” the stress of daily life.

There is such a thing as “good” stress called “eustress.”

Eustress enables you to perform at peak ability or exceed normal capacities in situations. This type of stress may result in superhuman strength and extraordinary endurance when you need it most to get through a stressful situation, but these abilities are only short-term.

Additionally, eustress can help you make positive changes in your life because it supports you overcoming challenges and accomplishing things that may seem overwhelming in the moment. This “good” stress energizes you to stick with the positive change that gets you through the stressful situation. God created you to have this type of response to eustress, but God also offers you His courage to overcome stress related to life’s challenges.

The opposite of eustress is distress.

Distress is typically accompanied by feelings of being overwhelmed and anxiety, which are perceived as negative and unwanted. Distress is not simply being bummed out or challenged by a situation; it is being devastated and paralyzed by a situation. Instead of resulting in superhuman strength or extraordinary capabilities, distress destroys and disables, zaps motivation, and often stifles or paralyzes positive responses to the situation.

When you experience distress, you feel out of your “norm” or place of comfort and you feel worrisome, dangerous, or even life threatening. Distress is the kind of stress that exceeds your physical, emotional, or psychological ability to positively cope with a situation. Also, distress hinders your ability to function normally, communicate and even think clearly. If distress continues long-term, it can become detrimental to your mental, physical, and spiritual health.

Why is it helpful for you to be able to identify the difference between eustress and distress in life situations?

Because long periods of distress can cause a condition called trauma. Very simply, trauma is an injury caused by a sudden and massive distressful situation or from a long period of constant distress.

Trauma is the lasting emotional, physical, psychological, and/or sociological response that often results from living through a distressing event or experience. Experiencing a traumatic event can harm one’s sense of safety, sense of self, and ability to regulate emotions and navigate relationships. Trauma can also hinder a person’s ability to function well.

Trauma is a form of injury and is not something someone chooses. When you have a minor or common illness you can often treat yourself and get better on your own. But, if you experience a serious injury or prolonged distress, you may not be able to heal on your own and you realize you need help.

What if your coping skills and support systems are not enabling you to overcome the trauma you have experienced? The first step is to acknowledge you need help to get through your trauma. The next step is to think about where you might find help in healing from your trauma.

There is no shame in being traumatized.

It is an injury. Often trauma comes in life from an accident or circumstances beyond our control. When we see someone injured, often our first response is to call for help, usually we call 911 because emergency response personnel are trained to help with injuries and have access to helpful resources.

So, when you or someone you know has experienced trauma, encourage them to take a step toward healing. A wise first step is to realize help is needed. Two helpful resources to call are 911 Emergency Response and 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

The most important thing is to reach out for help.

People who have been traumatized by overwhelming distress are generally not in a condition to help themselves. Most of the time, with the proper support, those who have experienced trauma can begin the process of healing. Please do not be ashamed to ask for help. Asking for help might be your first step to healing from trauma.

Disclaimer: The author of this blog is not a licensed healthcare professional, social worker, or vocational counselor. The author is a trained and experienced chaplain working exclusively with people who have been or are currently being traumatized by life situations. This chaplain is a first responder helping people stabilize their situation and begin to use effective coping skills or helping them find appropriate resources to begin recovering from traumatic injuries. Information in this blog comes from training and experience and is not intended to be diagnostic.

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