Symptoms of Stress & Trauma

Symptoms of Traumatic Stress

When our bodies are feeling uneasy, they send us messages. The purpose of these messages is to make us aware that something is wrong and needs our attention.

If these messages go unanswered, they evolve into the symptoms over time. And that’s why it’s important that we see these “messages” for what they truly are.

It’s important to realize that the symptoms listed below aren’t caused exclusively by traumatic stress, nor have all individuals showing signs of one or more of these symptoms necessarily been traumatized. For example: the flu can cause severe stomach pain like that of someone suffering from trauma symptoms, yet the flu and its pains disappear after a finite period of time, while those produced by trauma continue over prolonged periods.

The following lists are not comprehensive, nor do they indicate a specific form or cause of trauma. But any or all of them can appear no matter what type of event caused the trauma, and can disappear when the trauma is healed.

How can we heal the symptoms of traumatic stress?

The symptoms of traumatic stress are our bodies’ internal “wake-up calls”, and we need to learn to trust them, how to listen to them and how to use them in order to begin healing.

If you are upset while reading the following symptoms, I encourage you to try to see your reaction as the initial phase of your healing process, and try being grateful that your body is sending you the message that healing is needed.


Immediately after an overwhelming event, the first symptoms that are likely to develop include:

  • Hyperarousal
  • Constriction
  • Dissociation
  • Denial
  • Feelings of helplessness or immobility

Other symptoms that appear at the same time or shortly after include:

  • Hypervigilance (being “on guard” at all times)
  • Intrusive imagery or flashbacks
  • Extreme sensitivity to light and sound
  • Hyperactivity
  • Exaggerated emotional and startle responses
  • Nightmares and night terrors
  • Abrupt mood swings, including rage, temper tantrums and crying
  • Shame and lack of self-worth
  • Reduced ability to deal with stress
  • Difficulty sleeping

Some symptoms, such as those below, may show up later, even years later:

  • Panic attacks, anxiety and phobias
  • Mental “blankness” or feeling unfocused
  • Avoidance behavior (avoiding places, activities, people, movements or memories)
  • Addictive behaviors, including overeating, drinking, smoking, etc
  • Exaggerated emotional and startle responses
  • Exaggerated or diminished sexual activity
  • Amnesia and forgetfulness
  • Inability to love, nurture or bond with other individuals
  • Fear of dying or having a shortened life
  • Self-mutilation, including severe abuse, self-inflicted cutting, etc
  • Loss of sustaining beliefs (spiritual, religious, interpersonal)

The following symptoms take the longest to develop, and in most cases, may have been preceded by some of the earlier symptoms. However, there is no fixed rule that dictates when and if a symptom will appear.

  • Excessive shyness
  • Diminished emotional responses
  • Inability to make commitments
  • Chronic fatigue or very low physical energy
  • Immune system problems, and certain endocrine problems such as thyroid malfunction and environmental sensitivities
  • Psychosomatic illnesses, particularly headaches, migraine, neck and back problems
  • Chronic pain
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Asthma
  • Skin disorders
  • Digestive problems, including spastic colon
  • Severe premenstrual syndrome
  • Depression or feelings of impending doom
  • Feelings of detachment, alienation and isolation (“living dead” feelings)
  • Reduced ability to formulate plans

These symptoms of trauma can be ever-present, i.e. stable, or unstable, meaning they can come and go, triggered by stress. They can remain hidden for decades and suddenly surface. Symptoms usually do not occur individually, but in groups, and often grow increasingly complex over time, becoming less and less connected with the original trauma.

If you would like to find out more about how we can help resolve your traumatic experiences and restore balance to your stress control mechanism, please call for a complimentary 15-min consultation. Please call 949-400-5951.

The Center for Mind-Body Healing would like to thank Dr. Peter Levine and the extensive work and research he has done on these topics. To learn more about him, please click here to visit his site.