How Do People Respond to Traumatic Events?



People respond to traumatic events in different ways. Often there are no visible signs, but people may have serious emotional reactions. Shock and denial shortly after the event is a normal reaction. Shock and denial are often used to protect oneself from the emotional impact of the event. You may feel numb or detached. You may not feel the event’s full intensity right away.

Once you have moved past the initial shock, responses to a traumatic event may vary. Common responses include:

irritability
sudden, dramatic mood changes
anxiety and nervousness
anger
denial
depression
flashbacks or repeated memories of the event
difficulty concentrating
altered sleeping or insomnia
changes in appetite
intense fear that the traumatic event will recur, particularly around anniversaries of the event (or when going back to the scene of the original event)
withdrawal and isolation from day-to-day activities
physical symptoms of stress, such as headaches and nausea
worsening of an existing medical condition
A condition known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can sometimes occur after you experience a life-threatening event or witness a death. PTSD is a type of anxiety disorder that affects stress hormones and changes the body’s response to stress. People with this disorder require strong social support and ongoing therapy. Many veterans returning from war suffer from PTSD.

PTSD can cause an intense physical and emotional response to any thought or memory of the event. It can last for months or years following trauma. Experts do not know why some people experience PTSD after a traumatic event while others do not. A history of trauma, along with other physical, genetic, psychological, and social factors may play a role in developing PTSD.

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