Experiencing a trauma, a stressful often disturbing event that overwhelms your ability to cope, can have a negative impact on your emotional well-being. You could struggle with symptoms that can be difficult to manage. Although most of the acute stress symptoms can resolve within a month, some can linger much longer possibly leading to posttraumatic stress disorder. Below are 10 common reactions that might occur after you experience a trauma.
1. Shock Or Denial
After experiencing a traumatic event, one of the first responses you have may be shock or denial. Feeling disconnected from what occurred, and denying the impact it had, is not uncommon. You might even try to deny that it really happened at all. However, this is a normal part of the fight, flight, or freeze response. It helps protect you from the full emotional impact of your experience. You could feel numb, detached, and confused. There is great difficulty believing what happened. Physical symptoms such as, tightness in your chest, feeling light-headed, or vomiting can also occur. This happens as adrenaline is released due to the stressful event.
2. Fear Or Anxiety
Anxiety, constant worry, and being afraid of the incident happening again can occur after experiencing a traumatic event. Your perception and worldview can change, and you might observe the world as a very scary place. The focus can shift to a belief the world is unsafe. You could also begin fixating on all of the awful things that might happen. It is possible to have difficulty sleeping. Instead of feeling safe and in control, you could feel out of control in an unsafe environment. Nervousness, heart palpitations, and panic attacks can occur. There may be fear and worry about the trauma happening again, or a different trauma occurring.
3. Exaggerated Startle Response
You could experience an exaggerated startle response as your body automatically goes into a protective mode. When you startle, you naturally try to cover any weaker areas where you could be vulnerable. Being touched unexpectedly, loud noises, and quick movements can cause you to startle. Feeling more on edge is quite common. It is as if it takes very little to cause you to feel as though you need to protect yourself.
Nightmares can occur after exposure to a trauma. These dreams can be very vivid. At times, you could wake in a panic and could have great difficulty calming down. Your nightmares can focus on what happened during the trauma, or they could seem completely unrelated. However, there is usually a theme related to fear or being out of control during the nightmare. Bad dreams can happen often or only occasionally. If these dreams occur regularly, you could be afraid to go to sleep at night.
After a traumatic event, you could experience flashbacks. A flashback involves an often intense and disturbing sudden memory of a past traumatic event. It can feel as if you are experiencing the trauma again. Also, you may even respond as if the trauma is happening now and scream, cry, fight, or run. Experiencing a flashback can be very disturbing and can bring up feelings of helplessness, powerlessness, confusion, and disorientation.
You could become more hypervigilant following a traumatic event. Hypervigilance refers to being in a state of high alert to a potential threat or danger. There may be increased anxiety and fear. Usually, you become very aware of small changes in the environment that might signal a problem. There is a strong need to figure out what you should do to keep yourself out of danger. However, there is also a belief that danger is all around you all of the time.
Following a traumatic experience, you might find yourself more irritable. It is easier to become agitated by things that normally wouldn’t bother you. Small annoyances can seem much bigger and might really get on your nerves. You could snap at others easily and have little patience. Anger comes up quickly and can be difficult to shake. In fact, others may keep more of a distance because they notice your short fuse.
While dissociating during a traumatic event is common, it can continue to happen even when the incident is over. Dissociation is a part of the freeze response that occurs when you feel overwhelmed and go into survival mode. When you dissociate, you disconnect from your body and what is being experienced as a way to protect yourself from pain and trauma. A common way of experiencing dissociation is when you zone out for a moment, or daydream. After a trauma, you might dissociate when something in your environment reminds you of the traumatic event. It is even possible to feel emotionally numb and disconnected a lot of the time.
9. Reexperiencing The Event
When you experience something traumatic, your brain tries to make sense of what happened. Because of this, you can replay the event over and over again in your mind. The memory continues to play in your head in a loop, even when you try not to think about it. It can be difficult to focus on what is going on in the moment, as your mind is focused on the traumatic experience. As the memory replays, you may become upset, scared, and panicked as if you were experiencing the trauma over again.
10. Avoidance Behaviors
Trauma can affect your worldview and cause you to pay more attention to all of the dangers around you and what could go wrong. In order to cope with difficult memories and unsettling feelings, you might avoid anything that reminds you of the traumatic event. Maybe you stop watching television, or hanging out with other people that remind you of the trauma. You could also stop going to certain areas or events to try to avoid thoughts of what happened.
These reactions can occur directly after experiencing a trauma, or there can be a delayed reaction in experiencing symptoms. It is also possible to have all of these reactions, or only a few. If you are struggling with any symptoms following a trauma, therapy can help. EMDR, or TF-CBT can help you process what happened and learn effective ways of coping with troubling symptoms related to the trauma.