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Stress and Trauma

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Background

Stress may be defined as a psycho-physiological response to a perceived threat. People who encounter stressors, or perceived threats, experience a stress response. That response includes physical, emotional, and cognitive components in both an immediate and long-term process. A stress response involves, among other physiologic changes, the body's sympathetic nervous system secreting adrenalin and/or the adrenal glands secreting cortisol in an attempt to make our body or behavior more capable of dealing with threats to our well-being. The powerful effect of these hormones when prolonged can have an adverse impact on health. For example, cortisol is a powerful immunosuppressive.

Trauma may be considered as the psychological effect of severe or prolonged stress. Generally this involves experiencing or witnessing threats of death or serious injury to either self or others. What is "traumatized" in this experience is the sense of the self as safe, protected, or invulnerable. Various behavioral and emotional effects are common in response to trauma. These effects generally fall along a continuum, but may be quite severe and disruptive to daily role functioning and overall quality of life. Fortunately, they frequently remit with time and supportive interpersonal interaction. However, for some people, symptoms may persist leading to potential problems associated with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In such cases, professional treatment has been found to be helpful in either eliminating or reducing symptoms.

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Research

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