What is trauma?

Trauma is the instinctive response we have to a distressing or frightening event or situation that we witness or experience.

Things feel out of our control. Our ability to cope is overwhelmed. The situation can even be traumatic for us if someone we care about has been affected and we hear about it secondhand.

During a traumatic situation, our brains automatically work to keep us safe from harm. Afterwards we try to make sense of what’s happened. This process is normal and can affect anybody, at any age. Trauma causes many strong reactions, both immediately and in the days that follow.

Trauma reactions can be hard to deal with for a time, but they’re normal reactions to an abnormal event
You may find this short video helpful. It explains the way our brains instinctively respond to situations that are threatening, disturbing, or frightening. (It was made by the NHS in 
Lanarkshire, UK.)

Every person’s experience of trauma will be different, because we’re all different
What can be traumatic for one person may not be for someone else.

Some people will find their reactions ease up within days or a few weeks, while others can have more long-term effects. In some situations, a current traumatic event may bring back memories of traumatic events in a person’s past. This can naturally make their present experience more complicated and challenging.

While most people gradually recover from a traumatic experience, some people may have symptoms that are hard to cope with or get worse. This may be a sign that they have developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and need professional help and advice.

A stressed man

"People around me couldn’t understand why I wasn’t just ‘bouncing back’.

I was dealing with nightmares and flashbacks and getting terrible sleep for months afterwards. I found concentrating at work so hard and it got so frustrating that people didn’t understand."

It can be hard for those who weren’t involved to understand what you’re going through
Show them this information and talk with them about what it’s like for you right now.

Helpful information sheets
Our information sheets Coping with Trauma and Dealing with flashbacks may help you to cope with your trauma.


Dealing with flashbacks
Coping with traumatic grief