Trauma is a psychological and physical response to a distressing or life-threatening event

Crying girl being comforted by friends

Reactions to trauma can be complicated, and there are many possible symptoms.

Symptoms of trauma

  • Psychological symptoms (mental trauma): Denial, shock, feeling irritable, anger, guilt, shame, low mood, depression, hopelessness, helplessness, confusion, concentration and communication problems, anxiety, fear, isolation, numbness.
  • Physiological symptoms: Sleep problems, flashbacks, heart racing, low energy, being on edge and easily startled, tension, aches, pains and loss of appetite.
  • Behavioural regression: With particularly small children, trauma can lead to a loss of developmental milestones. Children can become more infant-like, clingy or fearful. They might revert to thumb-sucking, disengage from nursery or school, start bedwetting and imitate the traumatic events.

After a few months, symptoms of trauma usually begin to reduce. It is common for symptoms to come back when there are things around that remind the person of the traumatic event, such as anniversaries.

However, for some people the traumatic symptoms can get worse instead of better over time and develop into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is severe distress and anxiety caused by a very frightening or life-threatening event.

Recovering from trauma

  • Connect with friends and people you trust: Trying to forget or not talk about the event doesn't usually help in the long term. Finding a way to express the experience when you're ready – whether through talking, drawing, writing, music, dance or simply sharing a space with others – can help to contain the effects of the trauma.
  • Join a trauma support group: Some people find that being with others who understand the effects of trauma can be a helpful way to manage it.
  • Exercise, relaxation, meditation: Exercise and activities such as meditation, visualisation, breathing exercises and deep muscle relaxation can be helpful.
  • Talking therapy: If you're finding it difficult to cope, consider meeting with someone trained to help – this might include your GP or having talking therapy.

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  • Calm: An app for meditation and mindfulness

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