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Explains what trauma is and how it affects your mental health. Includes tips for helping yourself, what treatments are available and how to overcome barriers to getting support. Also has tips for supporting someone else who has gone through trauma.

How could trauma affect me?

This page covers:

Trauma can affect everybody differently. So you might recognise some of the experiences listed on this page. But you might also have experiences or reactions that aren't mentioned here. 

I remember looking at pictures of myself around this time and I still feel you can see a fundamental change, the sparkle in my eyes just dims, it’s almost as if the light of joy was snubbed out.

How our bodies respond to danger

When we feel stressed or threatened, our bodies release hormones called cortisol and adrenaline. This is the body's way of preparing to respond to danger, and we have no control over it.

This can have a range of effects, which are sometimes called:

  • Freeze – feeling paralysed or unable to move
  • Flop – doing what you're told without being able to protest
  • Fight – fighting, struggling or protesting
  • Flight – hiding or moving away
  • Fawn – trying to please someone who harms you

If we experience trauma, our body's reactions can continue long after the trauma is over. For example, when we're in a situation that reminds us of the trauma. This might affect how we think, feel and behave, especially if recovering from the trauma has been difficult.

Four years on it's still problematic, viewing the world as a threat, constant hypervigilance, sleep problems etc which then lead onto deeper personal issues.

How trauma makes us feel

Some of us who go through trauma may have these feelings, during or afterwards:

  • Anger
  • Numbness or difficulty feeling any strong emotions
  • Like you have lost your identity or a sense of who you are
  • Scared or panicked
  • Grief
  • Worried
  • Irritable
  • Confused
  • Restless
  • Unsure of what you need or want
  • Hypervigilance - which is when you are very alert and aware of your surroundings because you feel something bad might happen
  • Shock or horror
  • Shame

But not everyone feels the same way during or after trauma. And how we feel can change over time, even months or years after the event. Remember that any feelings are valid – even if you aren't sure why you're feeling that way.

I felt terrible, I couldn’t focus. I felt lost, anxious


When we go through trauma we might feel as if we're to blame. This can cause very strong feelings of shame or guilt, even if it wasn't our fault.

Reasons for feeling self-blame include:

  • Your mind trying to make sense of what's happened, and to avoid overwhelming feelings of anger, grief or betrayal
  • Finding a way to survive in an unsafe or stressful situation, such as living with someone who's harmed you
  • Wishing you could have done something differently at the time, even though you couldn't have
  • Someone else blaming you for what happened or acting like it was your fault
  • Being made to feel responsible for someone else's actions, even when they had power over you

Self-blame can be very hard to cope with. But it can be a way your mind tries to protect you. So it might take time and support to be able to start feeling differently.

You might feel confused or overwhelmed if someone else says it wasn't your fault. Although hearing this can also be a relief.

There's also an inherent sense that you did something wrong – either that you caused what happened to you, or that you should be dealing with it better.

Physical effects of trauma

Trauma can also affect our bodies physically. We might experience:

  • Headaches
  • Aches and pains around the body
  • Shaking
  • Tiredness
  • Sweating
  • Changes to how often we eat or what we feel like eating
  • Memory problems
  • Dizziness or changes in vision

This can also lead to other long-term physical health problems that are linked to stress. See our information on the physical signs of stress to learn more.

I found myself in excruciating pain – screaming, crying, shaking, rocking, sobbing, and then dissociating.

Experiences we might have after trauma

The physical and emotional effects of trauma can lead to certain experiences such as:

  • Flashbacks – reliving aspects of a traumatic event or feeling as if it's happening now. It could involve seeing images of what happened, or experiencing it through other senses like taste, sound, or physical sensations in your body. See our information on flashbacks.
  • Panic attacks – a type of fear response. They're an exaggeration of your body's response to danger, stress or excitement. See our information on panic attacks.
  • Dissociation – one way your mind copes with overwhelming stress. You might feel numb, spaced out, detached from your body or as though the world around you is unreal. See our information on dissociation and dissociative disorders.
  • Sleep problems – you might find it hard to fall or stay asleep, feel unsafe at night, or have nightmares. See our information on sleep problems.
  • Self-neglect – this is when you're not able to look after yourself and meet basic needs like eating, keeping clean or keeping your home safe. You might neglect yourself because of low self-esteem, or because you're having trouble adjusting to life following a trauma. Trauma might disrupt your regular routine. This can make it harder than usual to look after yourself. Some trauma might put us in situations where we have limited resources to meet these basic needs.
  • Self-harm – when you hurt yourself as a way of dealing with very difficult feelings, painful memories or overwhelming situations and experiences. See our information on self-harm.
  • Suicidal feelings – including being preoccupied by thoughts of ending your life, thinking about methods of suicide or making plans to take your own life. To find out more, see our information on coping with suicidal feelings. You can also contact Samaritans any time on 116 123 or [email protected].
  • Alcohol and substance misuse – a way you might try to cope with difficult emotions or memories. See our information on the mental health effects of recreational drugs and alcohol. You can also get confidential advice about drugs and alcohol on the FRANK website.

For tips on coping with the effects of trauma, see our page on coping with trauma.

The accident kept replaying in my mind — the sight, sound, touch and smell of those moments were repeated many times each day, in what I finally came to understand were flashbacks.

Can trauma cause mental health problems?

Trauma is a possible cause of many mental health problems. It can make us more vulnerable to developing them. But for most mental health problems, there are usually other factors involved as well as trauma.

See our mental health A-Z for information on any mental health problems you may be experiencing. 

When does trauma become PTSD?

Some mental health problems can develop directly because of trauma. These include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and complex post-traumatic stress disorder (complex PTSD).

Just because you've experienced trauma, it doesn't mean you will always develop these problems. The symptoms of trauma can be very intense. But these feelings will often fade over time.

You may be experiencing PTSD if these symptoms don't go away after a month. Or if you find that they're significantly affecting your day-to-day life. This might mean you need extra support with your mental health.

See our information on PTSD and complex PTSD to learn more, including where to get help. 

I had around 10 sessions with the counsellor…I told her about the thoughts I had been having that were scaring me, the anxiety and panic attacks, sleepless nights and nightmares, everything…She helped me accept that I had been suffering with PSTD and how to manage it all.


How else might trauma affect me?

The effects of trauma can last for a long time. Or they can come and go. You might find you have difficulty with day-to-day aspects of your life, including:

  • Looking after yourself
  • Holding down a job
  • Trusting others
  • Maintaining friendships or relationships
  • Remembering things
  • Making decisions
  • Your sex life
  • Coping with change
  • Understanding your traumatic experience alongside your religious beliefs
  • Simply enjoying your leisure time

In some cases, trauma can have a serious impact on your ability to work. See our pages on how to be mentally healthy at work for information on how to cope.

Some of us might find faith a way of coping with the trauma. But some of us might find it hard to understand our traumatic experience alongside our religious beliefs. Our useful contacts page lists some organisations you could get in touch with.

How you're affected may depend on other things too, such as:

  • Previous experiences of trauma
  • Other stresses or worries at the time or later on
  • Being harmed by people close to you
  • Whether anyone helped or supported you

It took ages for me to start feeling safe. I'd be out in public with mates, and a car would backfire, or a stranger would shout something to a friend just a bit too loudly, and I'd be halfway into a panic attack before I'd even realised it had begun.

This information was published in December 2023. We will revise it in 2026.

References and bibliography available on request.

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