Understanding Anxiety and Trauma

Anxiety refers to the response of the body towards a stressing, unsafe, or unfamiliar circumstance. It describes the sense of distress, nervousness, or fear that one feels before an important event. Being nervous about a job interview or terrified over an upcoming test is healthy and is commonly referred to as “normal anxiety.” Anxiety of this nature encourages people to adequately prepare for situations they are uneasy about and ensures that one stays prepared and attentive. Anxiety can develop to levels that need health or medical attention (Wu, Tang & Leung, 2011). Anxiety Disorder can be devastating. The anxiety that may require treatment is usually overwhelming, absurd, and inconsistent to the situation. People who suffer from it feel like they have no control of their sentiments, and can include severe physical symptoms such as nausea, headaches, or trembling. If normal anxiety develops to be disproportionate and starts to recur and affect one’s daily life, it is referred to as reaching clinical levels and termed a disorder.


Trauma refers to an emotional response to a devastating circumstance such as physical or mental abuse, rape, accident, natural disaster, etc. After an event has occurred, denial and shock are common. Unforeseen emotions, flashbacks, stressed relationships and some physical symptoms such as nausea and headaches are some of the long term responses to trauma (Baldwin & Leonard, 2013). Traumatized people have problems moving on with their lives and may sometimes require guidance and intervention help from psychologists and other health care professionals to move on.


Some people who experience traumatic events may develop an anxiety-linked disorder referred to as Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  Individuals who suffer from PTSD encounter a hard time in the aftermath of the traumatic event that continues to impact them even after the event has subsided (Ardino, 2011). Continuous anxiety and difficulty in concentration are some of the prevalent symptoms in people suffering from PTSD.


It is important for psychologists and other professionals in the health care field to truly comprehend the relationship between trauma and anxiety (Hughes, Kinder & Cooper, 2012). Clinical Psychologists perhaps have an ethical responsibility to go beyond a mere text book understanding about this relationship if they are to become effect in their treatment approach.  In other words simply knowing what to call something by name does not terminate the treatment process. That may also be why psychology is referred to as a helping field (operative word being help) not just a naming one.    The treatment of both trauma and anxiety entails a detailed assessment and creation of a treatment plan that meets the distinct needs of the sufferer. It is essential for the health practitioners to have an in-depth understanding of both the conditions so as to be better placed to help the people suffering from these conditions. Because of the differences in experience and repercussions of the trauma, the treatment differs and is tailored to the symptoms and requirements of the person (Hyman & Pedrick, 2012). Psychologists must have a good understanding to ensure that their patients are able to lead a more balanced and functional life again. Health practitioners may have a difficult time in differentiating the symptoms of anxiety and trauma. Therefore, health practitioners must become proficient and informed on how to handle people suffering from anxiety and trauma.


Possessing sufficient understanding that can assist differentiate between anxiety and trauma will improve the outcomes of some of the interventions applied to assist those affected. In most cases, people suffering from anxiety disorders have previously been affected by a certain traumatic event. Thus, it is possible that these people will exhibit some symptoms that are the same during the phase they suffered from trauma. It is important for the health practitioners to understand the relationship between anxiety and trauma to ensure that they give the correct medications and that the appropriate intervention procedure is used. More importantly, we need to have in-depth knowledge and understanding so as not to re-traumatize those who are entrusted under our care. There is the high probability that many on your caseloads and even those you work around, you will have had traumatic past experiences.  Your approach in caring for these individuals can be a direct reflection of your skills and understanding about the anxiety/trauma relationship. Moral ethical rule number one: Do no (more) harm.


Ardino, V. (2011). Post-traumatic syndromes in childhood and adolescence: A handbook of research and practice. Chichester, West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

Hughes, R., Kinder, A., & Cooper, C. L. (2012). International handbook of workplace trauma support. Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell.

Hyman, B. M., &Pedrick, C. (2012). Anxiety disorders. Minneapolis: Twenty-First Century Books.

In Baldwin, D. S., & In Leonard, B. E. (2013). Anxiety disorders.

Wu, K. K., Tang, C. S., & Leung, E. Y. (2011). Healing trauma: A professional guide. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.


Dianne Rapsey-Vanburen, MA
WKPIC Doctoral Intern


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