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What are common reactions to trauma?

All kinds of trauma survivors commonly experience stress reactions. This is true for veterans, children, 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

  • Having your ongoing medical problems get worse

You may have more emotional troubles 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  • Being withdrawn, feeling rejected, or abandoned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


There are numerous types of treatments and types of therapy to help treat and heal trauma i.e. Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR), Somatic Experiencing.

Somatic Experiencing therapy is “pendulation”, the movement between regulation and dysregulation. The client is helped to move to a state where he or she is dysregulated (i.e. is aroused or frozen, demonstrated by physical symptoms such as pain or numbness) and then iteratively helped to return to a state of regulation. The goal is to allow the client to resolve the physical and mental difficulties caused by the trauma, and thereby to be able to respond appropriately to everyday situations.

“Resources” are defined as anything that helps the client’s autonomic nervous system return to a regulated state. This might be the memory of someone close to them, a physical item that might ground them in the present moment, or other supportive elements that minimize distress. In the face of arousal, “discharge” is facilitated to allow the client’s body to return to a regulated state. Discharge may be in the form of tears, a warm sensation, unconscious movement, the ability to breathe easily again, or other responses which demonstrate the autonomic nervous system returning to its baseline. The intention of this process is to reinforce the client’s inherent capacity to self-regulate.

Somatic experiencing is used for both shock trauma and developmental trauma. Shock trauma is loosely defined as a single-episode traumatic event such as a car accident, natural disaster such as an earthquake, battlefield incident, physical attack, etc. Developmental trauma refers to various kinds of psychological damage that occur during child development when a child has insufficient or detrimental attention from the primary caregivers.

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Have you or someone you care about experienced trauma?

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