What is Trauma and PTSD?

What is Trauma and PTSD?

A psychological trauma may occur when you directly experience or witness a single or repeated event that is so overwhelming the brain may not be able to process what happened. Therefore it would make it more difficult to store the information in the correct part of the brain like a normal memory.

Not only those who were directly involved, but also the friends, family, community, and emergency service personnel can be affected and suffer with traumatic stress symptoms.

The impact of a traumatic event on people is usually different in the immediate aftermath than later on.  In the days immediately following a trauma the characteristics of post-traumatic stress and physical hyper-arousal are often present.


As time goes on, a period of assimilation and appraisal also take place, where people try to make sense of what has happened. Both the immediate time after the event and the later periods can be very psychologically and physically demanding.

In the earlier stages typical and normal reactions include:

  • Feeling numb, stunned, shocked or dazed

  • Intense feelings of helplessness or fear

  • Difficulties connecting with life around you and poor concentration

  • Denial – not realising that something terrible has just happened.

Another problem with the impact of trauma is that memories of what happened are not processed fully and they are often experienced as fragments and in a chaotic order.


Typical symptoms experienced by many in the medium term (days and weeks) following an event are:


  • Flashbacks to the event (re-experiencing it as if you were back at that time)

  • Images and/or thoughts about the event popping in to your mind when you don’t expect it constantly thinking about the eventdreams about the event or general disturbed dreams which have increased since the event.


Hyper-arousal: (i.e. an increased sense of feeling unsafe)

  • Irritability and anxiousness

  • Impulsiveness and difficulty controlling unpredictable emotions

  • Anger

  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep and/or nightmares

  • Constant feeling of being in danger

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Excessive worry

Avoidance Behaviours:

  • Avoiding thinking about the event

  • Avoiding reminders of the event, for example, visiting the area where the event happened

  • Using distraction such as keeping busy, music, drugs, alcohol

  • Denying that something happened or deny feeling more anxious than usual

Additional behaviours include excessive reassurance seeking from others (feeling clingy, over-talking about what happened) or being excessively interested in media reports about the event.