Trauma affects different people in different ways and there is no right or wrong way to feel after a trauma. Not everyone who goes through a traumatic event will experience difficulties afterwards.
When we experience a trauma, the ‘threat centre’ of our brain goes on to high alert. The threat centre’s job is to look out for danger and prepare our body to respond with either ‘fight’, ‘flight’ or ‘freeze’. For some people, the activation of our threat centre can cause a range of impacts for a while after the event. Physical impacts include feeling on edge, difficulty concentrating and bodily tension and emotional impacts such as feeling anxious, scared, angry, or numb. As our brain tries to process the experience this can cause repeated thoughts of the trauma, flashbacks (in which you see images and feel things as if you were back in that moment), or nightmares. For most people, these immediate reactions slowly reduce over a few days or weeks after the trauma as our mind and body learns that we are no longer in danger and our threat centre calms down. There may be times that these difficulties temporarily re-emerge (such as at anniversaries or other reminders or when facing another stressful event). All of these experiences are normal and part of the process of your mind and body recovering from the impact of the trauma.
For some people, however, the impact of the trauma may be more long-lasting. When someone has ongoing difficulties with recurrent thoughts about the trauma, feeling on edge and trying to avoid the memory, this may be a sign of post-traumatic-stress-disorder (PTSD). For other people, trauma impacts their mental health in other ways and may manifest in low self-esteem, difficulties in relationships, or they may develop anxiety, depression or other mental health difficulties. This might be immediately following the trauma, or many years later.