War Trauma



Before you look at this page, if you haven’t already, please have a look at our page on:

Trauma Basics


Alternatively, if you prefer to watch a video…

We also have a short video:

What is Trauma?


War Definition

War is defined as, ‘A state of armed conflict between different countries or different groups within a country.’


War affects millions of people globally.

War effects everybody involved including:

• Civilians

• Serving soldiers

• Civilians who are called up or forced to become soldiers

• Civilians who stay in the country / region and witness combat and impacts

• Civilians hiding in bomb shelters or evading their enemies

• Those who are displaced or subjected to forced migration

• Prisoners of war

• Those subjected to or who witness war crimes

• Countries or regions that are invaded

• Bordering countries

• Countries accepting war refugees

• Countries affected by economic or other such implications


Typical war and combat incidences may include:

• Gunfire

• Bombs and explosions

• Mines

• Drone surveillance or bombing

• Mobilised combat vehicles such as tanks and missile launchers

• Air strikes by planes and helicopters

• Chemical or biological weapons

• Destruction of infrastructure such as transport and power facilities

• Causing environmental disasters

• Trench warfare

• Special forces operations

War and war-related incidences are traumatic events!


Any traumatic event is a shocking, scary, or dangerous experience that affects you emotionally, psychologically and physically.


What is War Trauma?

War Trauma is a Chronic or Complex Trauma. We will be using the term, Complex Trauma.


A Complex Trauma is a trauma that happens when an individual experiences multiple traumatic events and refers to traumatic stressors that are: premeditated, planned, and caused by other human beings.


During war, people are exposed to many different traumatic events.


War trauma events may include:

• Soldiers experiencing intimate violence

(e.g. witnessing death through direct combat or watching friends or comrades die)

• Perceived or actual threat to your life or that of loved ones or strangers

• Witnessing extreme violence inflicted on others or as a result of violence to others e.g. torture, murder, seeing dead, burned or disfigured bodies

• Bereavement of loved ones

• Displacement and forced migration

• Ambivalent loss, being displaced and now knowing what is happening to the remaining family members left in a region or country

• Loss e.g. home, belongings, pets, car, savings, employment…

• Exposure to weather elements e.g. cold or heat

• Poverty e.g. limited or no access to shelter, food, water and resources

• Rape and sexual assault

• Children orphaned

• Mass graves

• Executions

• Imprisonment

Each of these single events are traumatic in themselves. In war zones, people are most likely to experience multiple traumatic war-related events and over a prolonged period.

This means that the trauma and responses are likely to have more serious mental health impacts on individuals. This is particularly true for anyone who cannot leave or escape war zones or who are prisoners of war.


War may result in more serious trauma impacts including:

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD is an anxiety disorder caused by very stressful, frightening, distressing or life threatening events. PTSD symptoms include:

• Panicking when reminded of the trauma

• Flashbacks (a PTSD flashback is when you relive your traumatic experience, and it feels like it is happening all over again right in that moment)

• Panic attacks (see section titled 'Panic Attacks' below)

• Being easily upset or angry

• Extreme alertness, also sometimes called 'hypervigilance'

• Disturbed sleep or a lack of sleep

• Nightmares / night terrors

• Irritability or aggressive behaviour

• Finding it hard to concentrate – including on simple or everyday tasks

• Memory loss

• Being jumpy or easily startled

If you have these symptoms for a period of more than one month, then the trauma is usually termed as being PTSD.

You can find out more about PTSD at:





Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD)

CPTSD is a condition where you experience some symptoms of PTSD along with some additional symptoms, such as: difficulty controlling your emotions, feeling very angry or distrustful towards the world. CPTSD is the experience of multiple and/or chronic and prolonged, developmentally adverse traumatic events, most often of an interpersonal nature such as war. CPTSD symptoms can occur even years after the war has ended.

You can find out more about CPTSD at:



Panic Attacks

A panic attack is a feeling of sudden and intense panic (extreme anxiety) that normally starts and finishes abruptly lasting between five and twenty minutes, some can last up to an hour. They are very frightening experiences especially in the first attacks when you are not sure what is happening. Sometimes you may have specific feelings of fear or dread with an attack, such as feeling you are going to die immediately. This is not necessarily rational but the feeling is real and completely overwhelming.


Panic attacks can also have physical symptoms, including: shaking, feeling disorientated, feeling sick, urgency to go to the toilet, runny nose, crying, feeling faint, sweating, light-headedness, dizziness, tingling in hands and arms, breathing difficulties, a choking sensation like your throat is closing, a racing heart pounding in your chest and chest pain amongst other symptoms.


A silent panic attack involves internal symptoms without experiencing external symptoms. For example, a person experiencing a silent panic attack may feel their heart rate increase or become dizzy, but it may not seem like they are going through anything on the outside.


If you have panic attacks, carry a paper bag with you at all times.

When you feel the attack coming:

1SIT DOWN 2Take 6 to 12 easy, natural breaths, with a small paper bag held over your mouth and nose. 3Remove the bag from your nose and mouth and take easy, natural breaths.

This technique will help to reduce hyperventilation.

It works by putting some of the lost carbon dioxide back into your lungs and body.

This helps to balance oxygen flow in your body.



What are the Signs of War Trauma?

There are many signs and symptoms of war trauma including:

• Fear

• Loneliness

• Anxiety - excessive fear and worry

• Anxiety attacks – this usually involves a fear of a specific situation or perceived threat with a clear trigger. Symptoms can be prolonged and include worry, restlessness, and physical symptoms, such as changes in heart rate.

• Headaches

• Fatigue

• Depression

• Apathy

• Numbness

• Confusion

• Helplessness

• Loss of appetite

• Problems sleeping

• Changes in behaviour or personality

• Irritability and angry outbursts

• Powerlessness

• Panic attacks – this usually involves a feeling of sudden, intense and unexpected panic that normally starts and finishes abruptly lasting between five and twenty minutes, some can last up to an hour.

• Suicidal thoughts and ideations


Ukrainian Women and Children Living with Trauma:



How Ukrainian Children are Coping with the Trauma of War:



Ukrainian Children who Fled to Europe Struggle with Psychological Trauma:


(Please note this video contains references to suicidal thoughts)




Self-help for War Trauma Symptoms and Impacts

There are suggestions here for ways of helping you to cope or coping better with war trauma.

Everyone is different so try more than one if you can and see what helps you.

Communicate – talking, signing or corresponding with others will help you relieve feelings of stress and anxiety You are not alone! – connect with others, confide in those who may share and understand your feelings so you can help each other and be there for each other during the painful moments Hug – yourself, others, cushions, blankets or teddies – feel the physical comfort of warmth or soft materials in your hands / arms Cry – let your emotions out when you need to and try not to bottle them up. Think of crying regularly as a tap dripping rather than a water tank of emotions at bursting point because the water can’t get out Take care of yourself as much as you can - get plenty of water, food (healthy food if you can), rest and exercise (stretching, walking, be creative and use everyday items to replace weights if resources are limited or do press ups, sit ups and squats if space is restricted) Avoid starting unhealthy coping methods such smoking or drinking excessive alcohol etc.If you are already using cigarettes, drinking alcohol, drugs or using other unhealthy coping strategies such as self-harm, get help if you can and look for other healthier coping methods and try and reduce the unhealthy ones over time and replace them with healthy ones Write – keep a diary, a thinker, journal, make notes, write your feelings down or create poems Draw and sketch - whichever method helps you to identify and translate your emotions onto paper, materials or digital devices Sew – creating a memorial blanket, quilt or other comforter is a powerful way to share and  memorialise your emotions and feelings creatively and constructively Music - humming, singing or drumming your favourite music on your own or together is a distraction and will lift your mood Form a routine or a new routine – this will help you to feel more in control, stable and safer Limit exposure to the war happening around you as much as you can, avoid looking or looking again in distressing situations and or at images of the war Get to know your triggers - you might find that certain situations, people, sight, smells, sounds, words, places or textures… seem to trigger flashbacks of traumatic events or other symptoms. The more you get to know your triggers the more you can predict, avoid or handle them Give yourself time and space – work out what helps you to find moments of peace  Ground yourself - look around and think about 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste Breathe – try deep and slow breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth. One of our psychotherapists, Felicity, calls it hot chocolate breathing with children in distress – she asks them to imagine holding a cup of hot chocolate in their hands and breathing in the lovely chocolatey smell through their nose and then blowing out through their mouths Self-soothing such as stroking or circling the top of your hands or the underneath of your hand with the opposite thumb Comfort yourself – curl up in blanket Safe item - keep a small object with you that you find comforting. It could be anything from a smooth or colourful stone to a sentimental personal item. See it or feel its texture for comfort when you start to feel stressed or upset as a reminder you are ok and will be ok Splash water on your face and hands (warm if possible) – use soap on your hands as it is a sensory aid so feeling the bubbles in your hands for a few minutes may help to ease your stress Repeat a positive statement in your head such as I am ok, I am safe or I will be ok Repeat a meditation statement /mantra in your heard such as I have control over how I feel or I choose to feel at peace or with every breath, I feel myself relaxing Safe place – imagine a safe place what it looks like, colours, furnishings, the feelings of being there safe and secure Enjoy - do something positive if you can. Spend some time on a hobby or activity you can lose yourself in if you can e.g. walking is proven to help physical and mental health or spending time with family or friends with a game or on a picnic or simply sharing a cup of tea and having a catch up Potter – pottering about with no specific task can have positive mental health benefits Ask for help - if you need it and you can, then reach out. The sooner you get help the more effective it will be in helping you, preventing further harm and a speedier recovery


If you want to know more about triggers then please visit our Adult Trauma page



There are distraction techniques that can take you away from immediate painful thoughts until you feel more relaxed and regulated emotionally. Try counting everyday items in sight around you, make lists, play mental or cognitive games such as counting the same or similar items around you, count forward from 1 or back from 100, find items you can see that all only start with the same letter of the alphabet and when you run out pick another letter and start again


Pressure Points

You can find some pressure points (red dots on pictures 1 and 2) in the webbing between your thumb and index finger (see picture 1) or another point is located on the outside of your forearm when you bend the arm 90 degrees. Measure 3 finger widths the elbow crease (see picture 2). Pressing or rubbing pressure points may reduce stress, headaches, and neck pain. Place your thumb or 1 or 2 fingers on the pressure point. Common fingers are the index and middle fingers. Apply firm pressure on the point and hold for 5 seconds. While applying pressure, take slow, deep breaths. Gently massage using a circular motion for 2 minutes. Repeat the pressure on your other hand

Picture 1Picture 2



Ukrainian Soldiers Training to Face Trauma







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