PTSD Symptoms What Is Emotional Shock? By Sanjana Gupta Sanjana Gupta Sanjana is a health writer and editor. Her work spans various health-related topics, including mental health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness. Learn about our editorial process Published on January 18, 2022 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Akeem Marsh, MD Medically reviewed by Akeem Marsh, MD LinkedIn Twitter Akeem Marsh, MD, is a board-certified child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist who has dedicated his career to working with medically underserved communities. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Jasmin Merdan / Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents What Is Emotional Shock? Symptoms Causes Diagnosis Treatment Coping What Is Emotional Shock? Emotional shock is a reaction that you may have to an unexpected event or traumatic incident that upsets you and makes it hard for you to function, says Aimee Daramus, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist and author of “Understanding Bipolar Disorder.” When faced with an intense stressor, you may experience a rush of overwhelming emotions that you aren‘t ready to understand or respond to, which can cause your body to go into a state of shock, Dr. Daramus explains. Emotional shock is often part of the fight or flight response, a normal but painful way your brain reacts to something it sees as a threat to your well-being, according to Dr. Daramus. When your brain is unable to process the situation, it freezes in an effort to protect your mind and body. This article explores the causes and symptoms of emotional shock, as well as treatment options and coping strategies. Symptoms of Emotional Shock Emotional shock may be accompanied by a range of physical and emotional symptoms. Aimee Daramus, PsyD You might feel numb, or cry, or rage. You might just sit there, emotionally unable to move. You might dissociate, and feel like nothing around you is real, or that it‘s actually happening to someone else. — Aimee Daramus, PsyD According to Dr. Daramus, the symptoms of emotional shock can include: Denial Numbness Disassociation Panic Anger Breathlessness Headache Nausea Dizziness Lightheadedness Muscle tension Increased heart rate Tightness in the throat or chest Inability to speak or move Difficulty rationalizing, thinking, or planning Loss of interest in surroundings Inability to express emotion It’s important to note that everyone experiences emotional shock differently. Two people may face the exact same experience and have completely different emotional reactions. This is because experiences are extremely subjective; they are less indicative of the actual event and more indicative of the way a person interprets them. Causes of Emotional Shock You may experience emotional shock in the wake of an event that suddenly changes your world. It could be an event that affects you or those close to you, such as your parents, spouse, children, or close friends. Some of the causes of emotional shock can include: Abandonment Abuse Accident Argument Breakup Crime Death Divorce Domestic abuse Financial crisis Health diagnosis Infidelity Injury Job loss Natural disaster Near death incident Racism Terrorism Violence Witnessing a death, accident, crime, or trauma “Sometimes people may even experience emotional shock about something good, like a dream job or a marriage proposal, if the emotions are too big to handle at the moment. Most of the time, though, it‘s a response to scary or intensely painful events,” says Dr. Daramus. Diagnosing Emotional Shock People experience emotional shock for varying amounts of time. Depending on its severity and the circumstances, it may dissipate on its own within minutes or may persist for longer. It can lead to acute stress disorder (ASD) or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If emotional shock persists or causes discomfort, it can be helpful to visit a licensed mental health professional or medical professional. They can assess your symptoms, conduct any physical or psychological tests required, diagnose your condition, evaluate its severity, refer you to a specialist if necessary, and develop a treatment plan for you. Caregiver Stress From Caring for Someone With PTSD Treatment for Emotional Shock Emotional shock in the wake of a traumatic event can be treated with therapy, particularly if you develop PTSD. Some of the forms of therapy that can treat PTSD include: Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT): ACT can help you experience your emotions and accept them, instead of trying to escape or avoid them. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT can help challenge unhelpful thought patterns and correct problematic behaviors. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT): DBT can help you regulate your emotions and increase mindfulness. Exposure therapy (ET): ET involves revisiting the situation and confronting your fears until you have processed the situation and are not scared of it anymore. Trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy (TF-CBT): Primarily designed for children and adolescents, TF-CBT can help them process the event and work through their emotional reactions. 10 Ways to Heal From Trauma Coping With Emotional Shock Aimee Daramus, PsyD If you or a loved one are experiencing emotional shock, the most important thing is to restore a sense of safety and comfort. — Aimee Daramus, PsyD Dr. Daramus suggests some strategies that can help you cope with emotional shock and restore your sense of equilibrium: Surround yourself with supportive people. Go somewhere where you feel safe. Make sure you eat and stay hydrated. Take good care of yourself or let others take care of you. Seek comfort from pets or familiar, comforting objects. Distract yourself with games like Tetris or video games, as they take a lot of attention and concentration and can help you manage your thoughts. Accept that you won’t be functioning normally right now because your mind and body already have a big job to handle. Don‘t try to talk about the situation or process it while you‘re still overwhelmed. That could make it worse because your mind and body are already telling you that this is too much. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Respect where you‘re at and let safe spaces, people, and comforting objects ease you out of it in a non-pressuring way. When Oversharing Turns into Trauma Dumping, and How to Stop A Word From Verywell People may experience emotional shock in the wake of a traumatic event, such as an accident, the loss of a job, or the death of a loved one. Everyone reacts to traumatic events differently. Depending on the circumstances, you may feel completely numb or you may experience panic, anger, or disassociation. You may also experience physical symptoms such as a rapid heartbeat, breathlessness, or tightness in your throat. In the immediate aftermath of an emotional shock, the most important thing is to focus on your comfort and safety, to restore your emotional equilibrium. Emotional shock is often short-lived, but it may persist or develop into PTSD. PTSD can be assessed, diagnosed, and treated by a mental health professional. 9 Ways to Relieve Anxiety Associated With PTSD 5 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Stinesen Kollberg K, Wilderäng U, Thorsteinsdottir T, et al. How badly did it hit? Self-assessed emotional shock upon prostate cancer diagnosis and psychological well-being: a follow-up at 3, 12, and 24 months after surgery. Acta Oncol. 2017;56(7):984-990. doi:10.1080/0284186X.2017.1300320 Giotakos O. Neurobiology of emotional trauma. Psychiatriki. 2020;31(2):162-171. doi:10.22365/jpsych.2020.312.162 American Psychological Association. Trauma and shock. Fujiwara T, Mizuki R, Miki T, Chemtob C. Association between facial expression and PTSD symptoms among young children exposed to the Great East Japan Earthquake: a pilot study. Front Psychol. 2015;0. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01534 American Psychological Association. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for treatment of PTSD. By Sanjana Gupta Sanjana is a health writer and editor. Her work spans various health-related topics, including mental health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist for PTSD Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.