Starting College As A Trauma Abuse Survivor

Woman returning to college

Contributor: Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC, Director of Content and Social Media at Eating Disorder Hope/Addiction Hope

The transition to college in itself is an overwhelming venture. There are many new aspects that come with this stage in life, including increased responsibility and independency, learning more about oneself and developing identity, making decisions about finances, work, career, making new friends and social circles and more.

For a college student with a history of trauma abuse, this transition can evolve with a whole new meaning. For some, this may signal the start of a new beginning; for others, a traumatic history can come with pain and fear of the future. Whatever the situation may be, it is important to know that there is hope for healing and successful college career.

Understanding Risk of Trauma

The American Psychological Association (APA) has defined trauma as the emotional response involved in response to a negative or harmful event. While it is normal to have an emotional response to a traumatic event, some situations can cause reactions that incur severe stress and dysfunction. In these situations, trauma can become debilitating, making it difficult for a person to function normally or carrying on daily responsibilities.

According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, trauma can involve various different circumstances and experiences, including but not limited to the following:

  • Physical Abuse
  • Community Violence
  • Domestic ViolenceWoman feeling trauma
  • Early Childhood Trauma
  • Neglect
  • Sexual Abuse
  • Traumatic Grief
  • Terrorism
  • Refugee Trauma
  • Natural Disasters
  • School Violence
  • Complex Trauma
  • Medical Trauma

The effects resulting from trauma can be a combination of physical, emotional, and psychological in nature. For example, an individual suffering from trauma may experience recurring panic attacks or find it difficult to manage stress level. Other emotional symptoms of trauma may involve mood swings, personality changes, outbursts of anger, sadness or denial.

The experience of trauma may evolve into a psychiatric illness, like post-traumatic stress disorder, or occur alongside other mental illnesses, such as eating disorders or substance abuse disorder.

Seeking Out Appropriate Help and Care

If you are a college student who has experienced any form of trauma in your childhood or prior to your time entering school, you may consider seeking out professional help before making the transition to school.

Even if you feel like things are relatively stable and controlled, you may consider the benefit of having adequate support prior to beginning college. Because college often involves many transitions, which can trigger deep-rooted emotions, it is helpful to have adequately processed situations from the past.

While it can be difficult to reface traumatic circumstances, allowing yourself the opportunity to do so can be deeply therapeutic and healing. Working with a psychologist that specializes in trauma can be a helpful, in terms of guiding you in ways that can appropriate address any unresolved trauma in your own life.

Building Appropriate Coping Mechanisms in College

An expected part of college involves a degree of stress and anxiety. This may come with all the changes that are experienced as part of the transition as well as the overloaded schedule that college students tend to have.

College student seeking support for traumaA person who has struggled with unresolved trauma may lack appropriate coping skills to face the day-to-day anxiety or stress that is experienced. For these reasons, it is also helpful to seek professional help and intervention. Psychotherapy can be another means of building positive and appropriate methods for facing situations that could potentially be triggering while at school.

If you are already undergoing your college career and have not yet sought out help for underlying trauma, consider connecting with a mental health professional. You can start by searching the mental health resources available on your college campus or seeing what might be available within your immediate community. Be aware of red flags and signs that may indicate that you are in need of help. Being unable to deal with the daily stressors that are faced without feeling like you are falling apart can be a sign that you are in need of assistance and support. Having adequate and professional help is one way to ensure your college years are successful.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

What are ways to stay supported in trauma recovery while in college?

Crystal Headshot 2About the Author: Crystal is a Masters-level Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) with a specialty focus in eating disorders, maternal/child health and wellness, and intuitive eating. Combining clinical experience with a love of social media and writing, Crystal serves as the Special Projects Coordinator for Eating Disorder Hope/Addiction Hope, where her passion to help others find recovery and healing is integrated into each part of her work.

As a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, Crystal has dedicated her career to helping others establish a healthy relationship with food and body through her work with EDH/AH and nutrition private practice.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on September 6, 2016
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