Written by an iTherapy Provider



Most people have some kind of stress reaction after a trauma. Having such a reaction has nothing to do with personal weakness. Stress reactions may last for several days or even a few weeks. For most people, if symptoms occur, they will slowly decrease over time.

What are common reactions to trauma?
There are common reactions to Trauma.  Survivors often say that their first feeling is relief to be alive. This may be followed feelings that include stress, fear, and anger. Trauma survivors may also find they are unable to stop thinking about what happened. Many survivors will show a high level of arousal, which causes them to unconsciously react strongly to sounds and sights around them. Hyper-vigilance is also very common in which the person is consciously on guard, heightened or increased vigilance or alert, and even sometimes reactive paranoia.
All kinds of trauma survivors commonly experience stress reactions. This is true regardless of age and gender: veterans, children, adults, and disaster rescue or relief workers. If you understand what is happening when you or someone you know reacts to a traumatic event, you may be less fearful and better able to handle things.

Reactions to a trauma may include:
• Feeling hopeless about the future
• Feeling detached or unconcerned about others
• Having trouble concentrating or making decisions
• Feeling jumpy and getting startled easily at sudden noises
• Feeling on guard and constantly alert
• Having disturbing dreams and memories or flashbacks
• Having work or school problems

You may also experience more physical reactions such as:
• Stomach upset and trouble eating
• Trouble sleeping and feeling very tired
• Pounding heart, rapid breathing, feeling edgy
• Sweating
• Severe headache if thinking of the event
• Failure to engage in exercise, diet, safe sex, regular health care
• Excess smoking, alcohol, drugs, food
• Your ongoing medical problems get worse
** Immune system compromised, frequent flu, colds, et cetera

You may have more emotional reactions such as:
• Feeling nervous, helpless, fearful, sad
• Feeling shocked, numb, and not able to feel love or joy
• Avoiding people, places, and things related to the event
• Being irritable or having outbursts of anger
• Becoming easily upset or agitated
• Blaming yourself or having negative views of oneself or the world
• Distrust of others, getting into conflicts, being over-controlling
• Being withdrawn, feeling rejected, or abandoned
• Loss of intimacy or feeling detached

Recovery from stress reactions and trauma
Turn to your family and friends when you are ready to talk. They are your personal support system. Recovery is an ongoing gradual process. It doesn’t happen through suddenly being “cured” and it doesn’t mean that you will forget what happened. Most people will recover from trauma naturally.

If your stress reactions are getting in the way of your relationships, work, or other important activities, you should talk to a doctor who is specialized in trauma. Good treatments are available.

Common problems that can occur after a trauma
Acute stress disorder (ASD)Acute stress disorder is a mental disorder that can occur in the first month following a trauma. The symptoms that define ASD overlap with those for PTSD. One difference, though, is that a PTSD diagnosis cannot be given until symptoms have lasted for one month. Also, compared to PTSD, ASD is more likely to involve feelings such as not knowing where you are, or feeling as if you are outside of your body.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a condition that can develop after you have gone through a life-threatening event. If you have PTSD, you may have trouble keeping yourself from thinking over and over about what happened to you. You may try to avoid people and places that remind you of the trauma. You may feel numb. Lastly, if you have PTSD, you might find that you have trouble relaxing. You may startle easily and you may feel on guard most of the time.

Depression. Depression involves feeling down or sad more days than not. If you are depressed, you may lose interest in activities that used to be enjoyable or fun. You may feel low in energy and be overly tired. You may feel hopeless or in despair, and you may think that things will never get better. Depression is more likely when you have had losses such as the death of close friends. If you are depressed, at times you might think about hurting or killing yourself. For this reason, getting help for depression is very important.

Self-blame, guilt and shame. Sometimes in trying to make sense of a traumatic event, you may blame yourself in some way. You may think you are responsible for bad things that happened, or for surviving when others didn’t. You may feel guilty for what you did or did not do. Remember, we all tend to be our own worst critics. Most of the time, that guilt, shame, or self-blame is not justified.

Suicidal thoughts. Trauma and personal loss can lead a depressed person to think about hurting or killing themselves. If you think someone you know may be feeling suicidal, you should directly ask them. You will NOT put the idea in their head. If someone is thinking about killing themselves, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or call 911

Anger or aggressive behavior. Trauma can be connected with anger in many ways. After a trauma, you might think that what happened to you was unfair or unjust. You might not understand why the event happened and why it happened to you. These thoughts can result in intense anger. Although anger is a natural and healthy emotion, intense feelings of anger and aggressive behavior can cause problems with family, friends, or co-workers. If you become violent when angry, you just make the situation worse. Violence can lead to people being injured, and there may be legal consequences.

Alcohol/Drug abuse. Drinking or “self-medicating” with drugs is a common, and unhealthy, way of coping with upsetting events. You may drink too much or use drugs to numb yourself and to try to deal with difficult thoughts, feelings, and memories related to the trauma. While using alcohol or drugs may offer a quick solution, it can actually lead to more problems. If someone close begins to lose control of drinking or drug use, you should try to get them to see a health care provider about managing their drinking or drug use.

Immediately after a trauma, almost every survivor will find himself or herself unable to stop thinking about what happened. Stress reactions, such as increased fear, nervousness, jumpiness, upsetting memories, and efforts to avoid reminders, will gradually decrease over time for most people.

However, there are many other variables that influence an individual’s ability to recover. For example, personality and emotional coping styles, age, social support, socio-economic status, any prior history of trauma or abuse, family environment, including childhood environment and childhood attachment to parents.

Use your personal support systems, family and friends, when you are ready to talk. Recovery is an ongoing gradual process. It doesn’t happen through suddenly being “cured” and it doesn’t mean that you will forget what happened. Most people will recover from trauma naturally over time. However, when symptoms continue into weeks or longer then it is recommended to seek assessment and treatment from a trauma expert.

IMPORTANT: If your emotional reactions are getting in the way of your relationships, work, or other important activities, then you should to talk to a doctor who specializes in trauma assessment and treatment. Good treatments are available. Don’t give up hope. Reach Out. Connect with me.

If you have any questions, concerns, comments, please reach out to me. I am here for you for consultation. On my website Contact page, you will find a Code for FREE 15-minute consultation.

I specialize in the assessment and treatment of Trauma: Single Event Trauma, Repeat Event Trauma, Acute Stress Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Battered Women’s Syndrome, Narcissistic Personality Disorder Victimization Trauma…and other mental health presentations that includes Depression, Anxiety, Panic Attacks, phobias, Agoraphobia. You will also find on my website a list of my specialties, credentials, and certifications.
With Love and Light,
Shawna M. Freshwater, Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist, NeuroPsychologist, and Holistic Healer.

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