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Traumatic Stress Responses: Recognising The Signs And Symptoms

Traumatic stress is a natural response of the body to extreme or dangerous situations. It is a survival mechanism that prepares our bodies to fight or flee from danger. However, when this response is triggered too frequently, it can take a toll on our health and well-being, leading to prolonged exposure to anxiety and stress. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to recognize when this response has been triggered and the impact it is having on our bodies until it manifests in symptoms such as panic attacks, burn out, and fatigue. In this blog – Traumatic Stress Responses: Recognising The Signs and Symptoms – we will discuss the signs and symptoms of a traumatic stress response and how to recognise them.

The body’s response to a traumatic stress response is a complex and interrelated series of events that affects both the mind and body. This response is aimed at keeping us alive during extreme circumstances, but if it is triggered too often, it can become problematic.

Signs And Symptoms Of A Traumatic Stress Responses

The following are the signs and symptoms that indicate that a traumatic stress response has been triggered:

Heart:One of the first signs of a traumatic stress response is an increase in heart rate. Your heart rate increases, and your coronary blood vessels dilate, feeding more blood, oxygen, and energy into the body. This increased heart rate enhances your power and allows you to run away or fight.

Lungs: The lungs also respond to a traumatic stress response, with a quickening of the breathing rate. Breathing becomes shallower, allowing the body to take in more oxygen to feed the muscles.

Eyes: Pupils dilate. This allows your eyes to take in more light, which improves your eyesight, enabling you to pay more attention to danger. You might experience this as “tunnel vision” or notice that your vision becomes “sharper.”

Ears: Just like the eyes, you may notice that your ears “perk up” as your hearing becomes “sharper.”

Skin: Your skin becomes pale and your face flushed; this is due to blood vessels in the skin contracting as blood is redirected to where it is needed – the brain, legs, arms and essential muscles. This is the reason your hands and feet get cold too.

Muscles: Your muscles will tense up, becoming prepared for action. This may cause your muscles to shake or tremble, especially if you are not moving.

Stomach: You may feel nauseous or get “butterflies”; this is caused by blood being diverted away from the digestive system.

Pain: Your perception of pain temporarily lessens while under a stress response. Allowing your body to continue to fight even when injured.

Mind: Racing thoughts. Quicker thinking helps you evaluate your environment and make rapid decisions. For this reason, it can be hard to focus on anything other than the danger or threat you perceive. You may also feel lightheaded or dizzy if the excess oxygen, blood flow and energy are not used up by actually running or fighting when triggered. 

Emotions: Along with the body’s response, it is entirely possible that you may experience psychological effects too. These can take the form of nervousness and, in severe cases, can increase the intensity of anger or movements when escaping danger.

Alternatively, it could simply cause your mind to go blank, making it impossible to think clearly and determine what to act upon next. There are a number of psychological responses that can occur: anxiety, focus shifts, and attention spurts.

It is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of a traumatic stress response and understand that everyone’s bodies are different, so specific reactions can vary. After a traumatic stress response has been triggered, it can take between 20 to 60 minutes for the body to return to a normal state. 


Traumatic stress is a normal response of the body to dangerous or extreme situations. When this response is triggered too often, it can take a toll on our health and well-being and manifest in symptoms such as anxiety, burnout, fatigue, and panic attacks. 

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of a traumatic stress response is important to understand how our bodies are reacting and coping with stress. Understanding these physical and psychological responses will allow us to take better care of ourselves and seek help when needed. 


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