The relationship you thought was forever has just fallen apart. The boss you trusted has unceremoniously fired you from the job you loved. Or perhaps you had a car crash. Nothing serious, you tell yourself, as you weren’t physically hurt.
You keep trying to rationalise what happened, to tell yourself to just ‘get over it’. Life will change, things will get better, they always do…
….so why is it you can’t seem to just ‘snap out of it’? Why are you exhausted, unable to think straight, why can you not just be yourself anymore?
The truth is that you are likely in shock. While it’s true you aren’t in “medical shock” – an acute circulatory condition where blood pressure falls so severely that multiple organ failure can occur – you are still in a medically recognised kind of shock.
Psychological shock, a form of psychological trauma, is the body’s very real stress response to experiencing or witnessing an overwhelming and/or frightening event.
[World event that has you reeling? You might also appreciate our articles on “How to Handle Anxiety from World Events“ and “Global Events and Psychological Strain“.]
SEVEN SIGNS YOU ARE SUFFERING EMOTIONAL SHOCK
1. You feel afraid.
When you enter emotional shock, it’s generally because your belief that the world is a safe place has taken a hit. Something has happened that you didn’t expect, weren’t prepared for, and couldn’t prevent happening. Suddenly, life feels dangerous and unpredictable, and you can’t trust anyone. You may even suffer anxiety attacks.
Not sure if you feel afraid? Notice if you are manifesting any physical signs of fear. Is your stomach anxious, do you have indigestion every time you eat? Are you suffering muscle tension – tightening your shoulders and jaw? Do you feel uninterested in going out or doing things you used to do, as if deep down you are afraid if you dare, yet another bad thing could happen?
2. You cannot think straight.
You might feel as if your brain has turned to mush, or you have ‘brain fog‘.
Life might even feel unreal, as if you are disconnected, floating slightly outside of your body and watching yourself carry on doing things. This is called dissociation.
3. You are experiencing physical side effects.
When your brain decides that there is ‘danger’ around, it triggers the primal ‘fight, flight, or flight’ response. Back when we were ‘cave people’ these responses where helpful, but nowadays the overload of adrenaline they involve just leave you with a racing heartbeat, muscle tension, headaches, stomach upset, and random aches and pains.
4. You feel strangely exhausted.
Sleep is often affected by emotional shock. Insomnia is common. Even if you are sleeping more than ever, you are unlikely to get quality sleep but might suffer disturbed sleep, full of stress dreams. It’s common to develop ‘night panic attacks’ where you wake up suddenly with a racing heart and severe anxiety.
5. You are ‘all over the place’.
When the mind is struggling to make sense of a difficult situation is doesn’t leave much headspace to deal with everything else that needs our attention.
Memories and emotions often rise up uncontrollably to be processed. Mag
nanimous thoughts like “I am bigger than this and I am free I will change entirely” give way to victim thinking, like “how can this really be happening to me”. Then there is the cycle of guilt (it’s all my fault), shame (what will people think) and blame (I hate them for doing this).
6. You feel like – and are acting like – someone else entirely.
Often with shock you’ll suffer a bit of a personality change. If you are usually social, you might just want to be totally alone and ‘hide out’. Or if you are often the sort to take time out by yourself and be practical, you might find yourself going out every night. This can also manifest as unusual behaviour for you, like drinking when you usually don’t, or going on shopping binges.
7. Your upset is so much bigger then makes logic sense.
Experiencing something shocking can trigger old repressed emotions and hidden memories of other traumas from long ago. This can mean you have a huge emotional response that others can’t understand.
WHEN WILL MY EMOTIONAL SHOCK STOP?
We all have unique personalities and unique pasts. Trauma will interact with your own vulnerabilities and previous difficult experiences.
This means you will have your own unique time line for getting over shock. And no amount of telling yourself to ‘get over it’ will help.
Some people recover in several days, some in several weeks, and for some, shock can go on for about six weeks or slightly more.
It’s also possible to experience delayed emotional shock. So you might think an event has not upset you, only to feel symptoms days or weeks later.
If your shock has gone on for more than six months, do seek support. Depending on the event that caused your emotional shock, and whether or not you are experiencing dissociation, it might be that your emotional shock is the diagnosable condition called actually acute stress disorder. And in some cases, emotional shock can turn into post-traumatic stress disorder.
[Read our article on “Emotional Shock vs Acute Stress Disorder vs PTSD” for more.]
BUT I HAVE FELT LIKE ALL OF THE ABOVE MY ENTIRE LIFE!
“The symptoms of emotional shock describe what I’ve been acting like for years if not my entire life. Is it possible I am living my life in a state psychological shock?!”
Yes, it is. More and more it’s being realised that some individuals lead their life in a sort of ‘extended shock’ after a traumatic childhood experience. As adults they might be unable to have close relationships, always have disturbed sleep and anxiety, and exhibit signs of Adult ADHD, including extreme distraction and an inability to think clearly.
This is sometimes diagnosed as cumulative PTSD. So if you think this is you, do get help. Working with a counsellor or psychotherapist can help you gently and carefully uncover your past trauma and learn how to lessen it’s control over your present day choices.
The important thing with psychological shock is to be gentle with yourself and not judge yourself. There is not a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to respond to traumatic events, and we all deal with things differently and get better within our own timeline. What matters is that you allow yourself the time to heal, and get help if you need it.
Has this article on emotional shock and acute stress reaction been helpful to you? Do share. Have questions? Comment below, we love hearing from you.