How Trauma Can Play a Role in Anxiety, Depression, and Chronic Illness

Posted by J.A. Writer for Hope Instilled on Wed Dec 7th, 2022 at 1:47 pm

What Does It Mean to Have Trauma?

Many people go through life struggling with trauma for years without understanding that’s what they struggle with.


I have read and heard many experts say we all have trauma from our past, no one goes through life without some trauma. We might not even consciously remember it, and might not even need to remember it to heal it.

How Trauma An image of a girl struggling with trauma to talk about how trauma Plays a Role in Anxiety, Depression, and Chronic IllnessWhat is Trauma?

Trauma occurs when a person is unable to cope with an experience or an event, and it stays with them unconsciously or consciously. Lasting responses to trauma may include anger, anxiety, denial, depression, flashbacks, sleep problems, and physical stress symptoms. Trauma can stay with someone over a few months or years, and when the effects of trauma don't disappear it is called PTSD. Trauma could be from emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual assault survivors, mental illness, accident victims, sudden death of a loved one, chronic illness/pain or witnessing mass violence. 

Adult Symptoms of Childhood Trauma

Trauma Can Often Cause Unhealthy Behavioral Patterns

Trauma can show up in many different ways…


You might struggle to do simple things, get anxious out of nowhere, or struggle to make healthy changes that you know that you need to. You can have the desire to make changes, really want to, but there is always something that keeps you from doing it. You can find yourself making the same repeat mistakes even though you know you learned your lesson. Maybe you don’t feel good when you do the healthy thing you are supposed to do, and you don’t feel good when you don’t. It is a losing situation that you can’t escape from. And that’s not your fault. It could mean something happened in your life (A TRAUMA) that makes you repeat the same behavior patterns maybe as a protective mechanism, or for another reason. So you need to attack the problem at the root!


Trauma can also show up as an irrational fear or phobia that you don't quite understand, or maybe you do. It could be the reason for your anxiety, depression, or for a chronic illness in general. It could be the reason for sleep struggles and nightmares, inability to concentrate, unrelenting guilt or shame, OCD, self-esteem problems, feelings of hopelessness, being emotionally numb, mood swings, and more. 

Understanding Trauma

Some people can go through the exact same experiences as another person and not be traumatized. We all feel and handle our life experiences differently. So don't feel bad if you had the exact same traumatic experience as someone else and its affecting you, but not them.


Sometimes even a tiny, negative experience can lead to a long term unhealthy behavior pattern, and sometimes a huge trauma can barely impact someone. Trauma can be from an accident, witnessing a violent act, a sudden death of a family member, a natural disaster, etc. Then there is also ongoing trauma like being an abusive situation, which people don't walk away from unaffected.


However, some trauma doesn't really need to be resolved. For example, I had a traumatic experience going whitewater rafting. I was tossed off the raft and the current was so strong I could barely swim. I did make it safely back on the raft, and when I did the instructor told me she was just having some fun and forgot I was riding in the back. It was traumatizing because the experience was already dangerous, and the one thing I trusted in for my safety was the guide. Well, I no longer trust whitewater raft guides. I had one more experience after that and I was deathly afraid the whole time. So I will just never go whitewater rafting again. I figure, it wasn't meant to be a repeated experience for me.


A person sitting by a big hole with roots coming out of the hole to talk about how you have to attack the problem (trauma) at the root.

Our world really doesn't understand trauma. People may say things such as... "really why are you holding onto that? why can't you just get over that?" No, your experience may have caused you to fear for your life. It was more stress than you could handle. It happened to you, it harmed you, and it is not your fault.

Sadly, even many mental health counselors and psychologists don't get it. You have to find someone who is specifically trained in trauma (trauma certified). Read all about it on Hope Instilled here: Trauma Therapist. 


How Trauma is Related to Chronic Pain 

Trauma can not only result from a chronic illness, but also be the cause of a chronic illness. 

Trauma Causing Chronic Illness 

The Institute for Chronic Pain states that up to 90% of women with fibromyalgia and up to 60% of patients with arthritis report trauma at some stage in their lives (D'arcy-Sharpe, 2020). It should also be noted people with chronic pain often have at least twice the amount of trauma as the average person. Trauma that is not resolved can cause chronic stress which can lead to both mental health issues and physical health problems. This article takes a look at the link between trauma and chronic pain.


Many people who experience trauma and are not treated for it, may have unhealthy coping mechanisms such as unhealthy eating, smoking, drugs, alcohol abuse, or taking part in risky sexual activities. All these methods of coping can contribute to a chronic illness such as diabetes, cancer, anxiety, depression, chronic lung & heart diseases, liver disease, viral hepatitis, liver cancer, and autoimmune diseases.


Those who have experienced ongoing trauma can be at triple the risk for heart disease and lung cancer. Many studies, including the original adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) study in 1998 and the Philadelphia Urban ACEs study in 2013, have shown correlations between childhood trauma and lifelong health problems (Center for Health Strategies).


A person who has experience trauma in childhood can actually have chances in their brain structure. These chances can cause the long-term health problems. PTSD often mistaken for a mental illness – is actually a psychological injury. The brain actually changes with PTSD and it is beyond a person’s conscious control. PTSD brain changes include the hippocampus shrinks, increased activity in the amygdala, and ventromedial prefrontal cortex shrinks.




D'arch-Sharpe, Ann-Marie. (2020, March 21). pathways/How is Psychological Trauma Linked to Chronic Pain?


Retrieved from:


Center for Health Care Strategies/Understanding How Trauma Affects Health and Health Care/Understanding How Trauma Affects Health and Health Care. (2016, November 22). Retrieved from:

Virant, Katie. Psychology Today/Chronic Illness and Trauma Disorders. (2019, May 12). Retrieved from:


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