For Youth

For Parents



Common Responses to Trauma


After a trauma, people may go though a wide range of normal responses.

Such reactions may be experienced not only by people who experienced the trauma first-hand, but by those who have seen or heard about the trauma, or are close to the person who experienced the trauma. Many reactions can be triggered by persons, places, or things associated with the trauma. Some reactions may appear totally unrelated.

Remember, these are NORMAL reactions to ABNORMAL events and there is NO TIME LIMIT

Physical Reactions

  • aches and pains like headaches, backaches, stomach aches
  • heart palpitations (fluttering) or racing heartbeat
  • breathing problems – gasping or feeling smothered
  • changes in sleep patterns, appetite
  • easily startled by noises or unexpected touch;
    sense of jumpiness
  • tense muscles –feel like will explode
  • more susceptible to colds and illnesses
  • change in sexual feelings


  • terrified or panicked
  • afraid
  • anger, from irritability to rage
  • hopeless or doomed
  • helpless or out of control
  • worthless or like a failure
  • shock and disbelief; confusion
  • anxiety
  • grief, sadness
  • restlessness
  • emotional swings – like crying and then laughing
  • feelings of detachment
  • emotional numbing or restricted range of feelings
  • withdrawal or apathy (not caring)
  • feelings of betrayal
  • feelings of self-blame and/or survivor guilt
  • shame; guilt


  • worrying or ruminating
    – intrusive thoughts/memories of the trauma
  • nightmares
  • minimizing the experience
  • concern w/ over burdening others with problems
  • loss of a sense of order or fairness in the world;
    expectation of doom and fear of the future
  • memory difficulties
  • difficulty trusting
  • difficulty concentrating or attending


  • hyper-alertness or hypervigilance
  • automatic reflexes
  • freezing
  • outbursts of anger or rage
  • acting older or younger than age
  • age inappropriate sexual behaviors
    (masturbation, exposure, interest, knowledge)
  • prostitution
  • avoidance of sex or promiscuity
  • taking risks
  • drug/alcohol abuse
  • criminal behavior (e.g. car theft, truancy)
  • identifying with “tough guy” image
  • defiance or compliance
  • running away
  • eating problems/ eating disorders
  • school problems
  • self mutilation /cutting;
    frequent accidents resulting in self-harm
  • suicidal gestures
  • aggressive behavior/ fighting
  • increased need to control everyday experiences
  • obsessively cleaning
  • attempts to avoid anything associated with trauma
  • tendency to isolate oneself/ isolation
  • unkempt appearance
  • making a mess of your life
    (at school, with family, with friends,
    with relationships)
  • inability to make or keep friends

What You Can Do To Feel Better

Remember what you have done in the past that has made you feel good/better – do that now

Some Ideas:

  • mobilize a support system
    – reach out and connect with others,
    especially those who may have shared the stressful event
  • talk about the traumatic experience with good listeners
  • cry
  • hard exercise like jogging, aerobics, bicycling, walking
  • relaxation exercise like yoga, stretching, massage;
    progressive muscle relaxation
  • deep breathing
  • drink water
  • avoid over-using stimulants like caffeine, sugar, or nicotine
  • maintain balanced diet and sleep cycle as much as possible
  • do a favorite (healthy) activity
  • fix or clean things around the house
  • take care of your pets
  • humor
  • prayer and/or meditation; listen to relaxing guided imagery
  • hot baths
  • music and art
  • write about your experience – in detail, just for yourself or to share with others
  • proactive responses toward personal and community safety – organize or do something socially active

If your attempts at coping are not working, consider getting professional help

Beyond the Trauma

People who fully engage in recovery from trauma discover unexpected benefits. As they gradually heal their wounds, survivors find that they are also developing inner strength, compassion for others, increasing self-awareness, and often the most surprising – a greater ability to experience joy and serenity than ever before.