Anxiety disorders are becoming increasingly common. It’s reached a point where anxiety is the most prevalent mental health condition. Pinning down the causes can be a tricky proposition. These underlying reasons may involve grief, financial issues, medication side effects, workplace stress, and so much more. A less discussed cause is trauma — particularly childhood trauma.

A connection between childhood trauma and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) has been confirmed via brain scans. Children exposed to abuse, neglect, and other serious dangers can become wired to perceive threats even when none are present. The same association can exist even for those who endure a traumatic event later in life. Either way, anxiety becomes a chronic but dysfunctional coping mechanism.

How Trauma Shapes Anxious Behaviors

As touched on above, the cycle can begin with counterproductive coping mechanisms. Having gone through something horrific, the human brain goes into hyperdrive to protect us from anything like that again. However, the severity and stress of trauma (especially when you’re younger) short-circuits healthy decision-making. Therefore, a trauma survivor may rely on negative choices like:

  • Blaming themselves for the event and then trying to “fix” whatever it is they imagine caused the problem.
  • Trying to grow numb via detachment, dissociation, and denial so the pain feels less impactful.
  • Living in a state of high alert — anxiously imagining that they are surrounded by risk.

Any of these options can be a one-way ticket to an anxiety disorder. When you process and resolve trauma, anxiety becomes less aggressive.

How to Recognize Unprocessed and Unresolved Trauma

Feeling Stuck in a Stress Response

A hallmark of trauma is the presence of intrusive thoughts, nightmares, and flashbacks. When triggered, you re-experience the past. Your mind and body react as if the traumatic event is happening again. Feeling on edge or in a state of dread can complicate trauma with an overflow of anxiety. From there, the following signs are all-too-common.

Emotional Issues

As the blend of trauma and anxiety progresses, you may notice memory lapses. Daily functionality feels like too much as your ability to concentrate is hampered. Adding to this, mood swings and difficulty regulating emotions keep you further on edge.

photo of a man who looks anxious holding his hand up to his mouth with eyes closedPhysical Issues

The sudden appearance of physical symptoms and ailments is a red flag. From fibromyalgia to chronic fatigue to cardiovascular problems and beyond —all of it can stem from trauma-related anxiety.

Risky Behaviors

In an unconscious effort to shut out past memories and present-day nervousness, a person with trauma and anxiety may choose to engage in dangerous, self-harming behaviors like:

  • Drugs and alcohol
  • Disordered eating
  • Obsessive choices like gambling, unsafe sex, and internet porn
  • Reckless driving

Now What?

If you suspect that your current high level of anxiety is rooted in past trauma, it is absolutely required that you ask for the help — and self-help — you need and deserve. For starters, here are two suggestions:

Name Your Emotions

Keep a journal to track your triggers. What launches you into a painful episode of intrusive thoughts and potential self-harm? Organize this trigger list from the least stressful to the most. Such an exercise allows you to gently be exposed to the patterns and cycles that influence your daily life. In addition, this journal will come in handy during therapy (see below).

Connect with a Trauma-Informed Therapist

A massive challenge for someone trying to manage trauma and anxiety is feeling unsafe. When you commit to weekly sessions, you grant yourself a space where you can feel more secure. In a setting like this, it becomes easier to understand how trauma has been stored in your body, how it triggers anxiety, and how to cultivate the tools you need to recover.

Let’s talk soon so you can learn more about anxiety or trauma therapy.