Symptoms of psychological trauma


There are many symptoms of psychological trauma, and all can have a devastating effect on your ability to function in your daily life and relationships. Traumatic events are experiences that have put an individual in either a life-threatening situation, or circumstances where there is a significant threat to one’s physical or psychological wellbeing.


An event may have little impact on one person, but could cause severe distress to another individual. Some examples of traumatic experiences are:

  • Acts of violence (armed robbery, terrorism)
  • Natural disasters (bushfires, floods)
  • Interpersonal violence (rape, child abuse)
  • Car or workplace accidents

Symptoms of psychological trauma: Physical, cognitive, behavioural and emotional factors


Physical symptoms of psychological trauma are:

  • Excessive alertness, on the look-out for signs of danger
  • Easily startled
  • Fatigue/exhaustion
  • Disturbed sleep
  • General aches and pains


Cognitive symptoms of psychological trauma are:

  • Intrusive thoughts and memories of the event
  • Visual images of the event
  • Nightmares
  • Poor concentration and memory
  • Disorientation
  • Confusion


Behavioural symptoms of psychological trauma are:

  • Avoidance of places or activities that are reminders of the event
  • Social withdrawal and isolation
  • Loss of interest in normal activities


Emotional symptoms of psychological trauma are:

  • Fear
  • Numbness and detachment
  • Depression
  • Guilt
  • Anger and irritability
  • Anxiety and panic


These symptoms are normal reactions to trauma and are part of the natural healing process, which involves the individual making sense of what happened and putting it into perspective.


With support from family and friends, most people recover from a traumatic experience over time

A small minority of people will develop more serious conditions such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorders or alcohol and drug problems.


You should seek professional help if the symptoms are severe or last for more than a few weeks.


Warning signs may include:

  • Being overwhelmed by the intense feelings or physical sensations
  • Feeling numb and empty
  • Continuing to experience strong distressing emotions
  • Continuing to have physical symptoms of being tense, agitated, and on edge
  • Continuing to have disturbed sleep and/or nightmares
  • Having no-one to support you and with whom you can share your feelings and emotions
  • Increasing your use of alcohol or drugs
  • Having relationship problems with friends, family and colleagues


Speaking to a specialist trauma counsellor or psychologist can help you to reduce emotional distress, and manage your reactions to triggering stimuli more effectively. Trauma recovery is a crucial step on the path to psychological wellbeing.

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