What does trauma have to do with anxiety and depression?


Do your past traumas have anything to do with your anxiety and depression? Let's first dip into the data of anxiety and depression in United States.

According to the National Institute for mental health, depressive disorders affect approximately 14.8 million American adults. That's 6.7 percent of the U.S population age 18 and older. Depression is also the leading cause of disability in the U.S. Now, regarding anxiety, approximately 40 million American adults, which is 18.1 percent of adults have anxiety.  Looking at the costs involved in treatment. mental disorders are one of the five most costly conditions in the United States with expenditures at $57.7 billion (Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, 2006). 


Now, these numbers are high. I don't see them as simply numbers, but as each individual number being an individual who is struggling with daily living. Anxiety and depression can impact daily life in a real way.

Americans aren't the only ones who suffer with mental health issues. In the UK, a group of psychologists at the University of Liverpool were researching anxiety and depression as well.  Professor Peter Kinderman who lead the research, said he was inspired to explore this topic as, "Depression and anxiety are not simple conditions and there is no single cause. We wanted to find out more about what caused people to suffer from anxiety and depression and why some people suffered more than others".

Based on their research data, their findings proved that traumatic life events are the primary cause for depression and anxiety.

The reason? Traumas have a way of shaking the view of self, others and the world, and can leave you feeling doubtful in place of previous confidence and trust. This vulnerability disposition can leave you with more susceptibility to stressors impacting you  than usual. 

An important piece that was produced from the study is something we already know from latest trauma studies. This study strengthen that it isn't simple the "what" of the event that one goes through (referencing what kind of event or trauma it was) but rather, the "how" that impacted the person. Meaning, it is the individuals' thought process, and "making sense of" themselves after the event that impacted the intensity of the experience. 


Jennifer goes for a run three days a week. One day a larger male made his way alongside her and attempted to attack her. "I froze. I did not know what to do. Looking back, maybe there was something but I just froze. I feel so mad at myself that I didn't' even make an attempt to push back. But what bothers me even more is the belief I am stuck with now. I feel as though I am weak and am an easy target. That part makes me feel fearful on a day to day event.


Stacey takes her morning stroll every AM with her pug, Scott. This morning, as she heads out, she's hit from the side by this tall male. Shocked, she tries pushing him off but he's stronger than she is. " I knew he was stronger than me, but I attempted... I knew that whatever it was that was going to happen, I would be ok. Or at least I wanted to believe that. I kept saying to myself that it'll pass, and that I'll be ok. I'll be ok. And I just held onto that". These days, aside from the pause she takes as she walks outside, Stacey strolls outside almost as normal. She knows that there are dangers, so she is more alert, but she feels comfortable going on with her day.

The differences in the two snippets are not the actual events, as they were similar. However, it is the unique way that each individual experienced the event.  It's how each mind, body and psyche made sense of the experience that left an imprint. .

I do want to point out, that though traumatic life events were the biggest determining factor in development of anxiety and depression, there are other components at play as well. Other contributing factors to anxiety and depression are genetics, family history of mental illness, education and Income levels and social factors and relationship statuses (those in healthy relationships are less susceptible to developing disorders). 

What stands out, as noted above, is the Individual's thinking style- how the individual makes sense of, and "digests" experiences.

How therapy works

Now, while we cannot change an individuals' family history or life events, it is possible to help the person change the way their mind and bodies think and feel about the experience. Based on somatic psychotherapy, we know that experiences are digesting on a mind and body level, and if there is a perceived threat, your body may be sending danger signals to your mind, without any current obvious stress. 


As well, there may be a running script that is feeding your mind a narrative that produces ongoing stress regarding your current reality. f such as; "I'm in danger, I'm unloveable, I'm not worthy, I'm unsafe..." and these beliefs impact how you hold your body, how you interact with others, and the messages others are picking up on from you. Because of this, good treatment involves healing mind, body and spirit.

Science based therapies such as EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) Somatic Psychotherapy, Parts work (IFS/Ego State work) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapies have been proven to reduce trauma symptoms. 

In session- what does therapy address?

In therapy with my clients we address the symptoms at core level; this involves

  • 1) challenging the thinking of mind (narrative),

  • 2) the processing of the body experience (somatic)

  • 3) messaging the body has been sending. (cognition/self beliefs).

Using a blend of therapy methods, we helps you unstuck from old patterning so you can experience relief. 

Start healing today

If you have been struggling with anxiety, depression or trauma related symptoms and are ready to do the work to experience relief, reach out today to schedule your free consultation. Take the first step to a better life, call or email, I'd be happy to help.