Reactions to Trauma

/Reactions to Trauma
Reactions to Trauma2017-02-12T21:39:31+00:00

What kind of reactions do people have to trauma?

When a person has experienced a shocking, unexpected or traumatic incident they are likely to develop deep emotional and physical shock or stress. These reactions are normal, but will be very unique, personal and individual.

Here are some typical reactions that people can experience after a trauma:


  • Tension in the muscles
  • Tiredness & exhaustion
  • Diarrhoea
  • Little desire to do anything
  • Hyperactivity
  • Dry mouth
  • Sweating
  • Headaches
  • Dizzy spells/funny turns
  • Unsteady breathing
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Increased, rapid heartbeat
  • Other physical pains


  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Guilt
  • Depression
  • Insecurity
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Moodiness
  • Panic attacks
  • Nightmares
  • Poor memory
  • Loss in self-confidence or concentration


  • Increased smoking and/or drinking
  • Workaholism, or not turning up to work
  • Personal neglect
  • Development of habits
  • Nail biting
  • Impulsiveness
  • Twitches, tapping fingers, etc.
  • Non-stop talking
  • Changes in eating patterns

Why do people have these reactions?

The human brain is rational and intuitive. When you are exposed to danger or traumatic events, the intuitive side takes over. It does what it needs to do to survive. The brain has five instinctive reactions:

  • Fight
  • Flight
  • Freeze
  • Flop
  • (Be)friend

Your mind will choose the reaction that is most likely to lead to survival and the least harm. It doesn’t think about how you will feel after. During rape or abuse, the first two options often aren’t possible. They may lead to further physical or mental harm from the abuser. The last three options are very common as they expose the survivor to the least danger.

If there is a safe outcome (survival), the brain learns to use that reaction again. Sometimes, this response can be used repeatedly to less and less risky situations. This can lead to a heightened state of awareness of risk, or to a feeling of numbness.

The hormones released during these processes can also affect the part of your brain that is responsible for memory. It can ‘blow the fuse’ and stop you from being able to access memories or associate them with a time or a place.

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