Common Reactions to Trauma

No two people will process any traumatic event in the same way. Responses to trauma can be immediate or delayed (days, months, or years after the incident). While there are individual differences to survivors’ experiences of trauma, there are common reactions that are normative and natural. It is important to note that trauma can immediately activate our sympathetic nervous system and prepare our bodies for involuntary fight, flight, and/or freeze responses.

Individuals may experience some or many of the following immediate reactions:

Physical Effects


Tonic immobility, auditory exclusion, inability to form words or speak.

Cognitive Effects


Memory loss or memory is out of order (memories may return after sleep cycles), difficulty concentrating, or confusion.


Emotional Effects


Dispropriate reactions, irritability, defensiveness, unexpected mood swings, or anger. 

Social Effects


Avoidance/withdrawal from people and activities, hypersensitivity, etc. 


Download a comprehensive list of common reactions to trauma (PDF)