PTSD Symptoms What Is Traumatic 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 Updated on December 15, 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 Daniel B. Block, MD Medically reviewed by Daniel B. Block, MD LinkedIn Twitter Daniel B. Block, MD, is an award-winning, board-certified psychiatrist who operates a private practice in Pennsylvania. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Cavan Images / Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents Symptoms Causes Types of Traumatic Shock Diagnosing Traumatic Shock Treatment Coping Trauma is any sudden, terrible experience that disrupts your well-being and overwhelms you. A traumatic experience can shock your system, causing you to go into a state of dissociation, where your body and mind feel disconnected and nothing feels real. Your brain resorts to this adaptive defense mechanism when it’s trying to cope with stressful or overwhelming events that it cannot prevent or escape. Shock essentially helps reduce your awareness of your physical or emotional pain by dulling your senses, making you numb, and reducing your conscious cognizance of the event. This article explores the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment options for traumatic shock, as well as some coping strategies that can help you regain your equilibrium. Symptoms of Traumatic Shock Trauma can cause a wide range of physical and emotional symptoms and every individual reacts to it differently. Physical Symptoms These are some of the physical symptoms that may accompany traumatic shock: ChillsDizzinessShakinessLightheadednessUnconsciousness NauseaVomitingStomach painRapid heartbeatHeadacheMuscle tensionElevated blood pressureRapid, shallow breathing Emotional Symptoms These are some of the emotional symptoms that may accompany traumatic shock: Fear Panic Denial Anxiety Anger Irritability Helplessness Brain fog Confusion Disorientation Numbness Withdrawal Emotional outbursts Inability to concentrate Difficulty making decisions Decreased awareness of surroundings A feeling of being unsafe The dissociative state typically lasts for a short time, such as a few minutes or hours; however, in some cases of repeated or prolonged trauma, it can persist for a much longer period of time. Afterward, it’s not uncommon for the person to be preoccupied with the event, forget it entirely, or have flashbacks or nightmares of it. Causes of Traumatic Shock While anything that significantly disrupts your emotional equilibrium can be considered a traumatic event, these are some examples of events that can cause traumatic shock: Abandonment Abuse Accident Argument Bankruptcy Breakup Bullying Crime Death Divorce Domestic abuse Financial crisis Illness Imprisonment Infidelity Injury Job loss Life-threatening event Natural disaster Racism Sexual abuse or assault Terrorism Violence War Witnessing a traumatic incident that happens to someone else What Is Unresolved Trauma? Types of Traumatic Shock Traumatic shock can be categorized into different types, depending on how it affects the brain and body. Dissociative Shock Traumatic events can sometimes cause a person to go into shock and disconnect from either themselves or the people around them. People who experience dissociative shock may feel disconnected from reality, suffer memory loss, or develop dissociative disorders. Medical Trauma Certain physical injuries or illnesses can be traumatic for the body and cause the person to go into a state of shock. These are the different types of shock, medically speaking: Hypovolemic shock is marked by severe blood and fluid loss, which can make it difficult for the heart to pump blood and in turn, cause vital organs to stop functioning.Distributive shock is characterized by abnormalities in the blood vessels that distribute blood around the body, which can lead to low blood pressure.Cardiogenic shock, often caused by a heart attack, occurs when the heart isn't able to pump blood to the rest of the body. It is also known as cardiac shock.Neurogenic shock is caused by spinal cord injuries that can damage the nervous system and interfere with blood flow. While these types of shock are medical conditions, they can also affect us emotionally and vice versa because the body and mind are interlinked. For instance, someone who has been shot at or been in a car accident may have severe blood loss and go into hypovolemic shock; however, they may also sustain severe emotional trauma. Similarly, someone who receives devastating news or experiences a trauma may have a heart attack and go into cardiac shock. These conditions are medical emergencies that can be life-threatening and need to be treated right away. If someone has sustained a medical injury, call 911 immediately. Diagnosing Traumatic Shock If you or a loved one have experienced an emotional trauma and are struggling to cope with it, it’s important to seek help from a healthcare professional, ideally someone who specializes in treating trauma. The healthcare professional will assess your condition and symptoms, perform any tests or exams required, diagnose your condition and its severity, provide a referral to a specialist if needed, and chart out a treatment plan for you. Depending on your symptoms and the amount of time it has been since the traumatic event, you may be diagnosed with: Acute stress disorder (ASD): ASD is a mental health condition that can occur in the first month after a traumatic event. Post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD): PTSD is a mental health condition where the symptoms of trauma persist for months after the traumatic event. Dissociative disorders: These are a group of disorders characterized by a feeling of dissociated from reality. Signs of Childhood Trauma in Adults Treating Emotional Trauma The emotional effects of trauma are best treated by healthcare providers who specialize in trauma-informed care, which takes a different approach from other types of mental healthcare. Trauma-informed care recognizes the need for healthcare providers to understand the person’s life experiences in order to deliver effective care. Treatment for emotional trauma may involve: Medication to alleviate symptoms Trauma-focused therapy to help you process the painful events and develop coping strategies Treatment may be administered on an inpatient, outpatient, or partial hospitalization basis, depending on the circumstances. Press Play for Advice on Healing From Trauma Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast, featuring psychiatrist Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, shares science-backed strategies to heal from trauma. Click below to listen now. Follow Now: Apple Podcasts / Spotify / Google Podcasts / Amazon Music Coping With Traumatic Shock These are some coping strategies that can help you if you are dealing with a traumatic event that has shocked you: Seek social support: Reach out to loved ones you feel safe and comfortable with. Practice self-care: Prioritize your physical and emotional needs. Give yourself time: Understand that healing from trauma takes time. Don’t set unrealistic expectations for yourself or compare yourself to others. Seek help and treatment if you need it: Remember that there are trained professionals who can help you and that recovery is possible. What Is Trauma Bonding? A Word From Verywell A traumatic event can send you into a state of shock, particularly if it takes you by surprise and you are unable to process it. Traumatic shock is a defense mechanism that helps protect your brain and body. Traumatic shock can be accompanied by a range of physical and emotional symptoms, such as numbness, confusion, disassociation, dizziness, and rapid heartbeat. It is usually short-lived, but can feel a lot longer. If you are struggling to deal with the trauma, you can seek help from a licensed healthcare professional, who can help you process it and equip you with the skills you need to cope. How Exposure Therapy Can Treat PTSD 16 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. MIT Medical. Common reactions to traumatic events. Mind. Dissociation and dissociative disorders. Krause-Utz A, Frost R, Winter D, Elzinga BM. Dissociation and alterations in brain function and structure. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2017;19(1):6. doi:10.1007/s11920-017-0757-y Wayne State University. What is trauma? Wayne State University. What is trauma? American Psychological Association. Trauma and shock. Dictionary of Psychology. Cleveland Clinic. Dissociative Disorders. National Library of Medicine. Shock. Medline Plus. National Library of Medicine. Hypovolemic shock. Medline Plus. Standl T, Annecke T, Cascorbi I, R. Heller A, Sabashnikov A, Teske W. The nomenclature, definition and distinction of types of shock. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2018;115(45):757-768. doi:10.3238/arztebl.2018.0757 National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Cardiogenic shock. Cleveland Clinic. Neurogenic shock. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Acute stress disorder. National Institute of Mental Health. Post-traumatic stress disorder. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Key ingredients for successfultrauma-informed care implementation. Lake Behavioral Hospital. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of emotional psychological trauma. 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.